2011-10-21 / Columnists

Health & Harmony

A Healthy Halloween
Commentary By Dr. Nancy Gahles


DR. NANCY GAHLES DR. NANCY GAHLES The rituals and celebrations that we have come to associate with Halloween have been developed over centuries combining the practices from all over Europe.

The earliest trace of Halloween is the Celtic festival, Samhain, which was the Celtic New Year. Samhain means “summer’s end” and it marked the end of the light of the summer and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year associated with human death.

The Druids (Celtic pagans) believed that the spirits of those who died the preceding year roamed the earth on the night of Samhain. (MSM Learning& Research-Halloween).

The Druids celebrated this holiday “with a great fire festival to encourage the dimming sun not to vanish” and people “danced round bonfires to keep the evil spirits away, but left their doors open in hopes that the kind spirits of loved ones might join them around their hearths.” (Chamberlain). On this night divination was thought to be more effective than any other time, so methods were derived to ascertain who might marry, what great person might be born, who might rise to prominence and who might die. It was told to be the time when the veil between the spirit world and our world was the thinnest, thus enabling spirits to move freely back and forth. During the Celtic celebration of Samhain, the Celts wore costumes, typically of animal heads and skins and told each other’s fortunes. The spirits were believed to be entertained by the living and some thought that they wanted to find a body to possess for the incoming year. This superstition gave rise to some villagers dressing up like witches, ghosts and goblins to avoid being possessed.

The lore of Halloween is conducive to potentially frightening ideas of ghosts and goblins. To some, being frightened is fun. It makes us laugh after we have screamed and realized it was all a joke. It’s a laugh of relief, actually, that the imagined horror didn’t happen after all. Some individuals carry that fright with them and they can’t forget it. They get “scared out of their pants.” These are the children who can’t sleep at night after a fright. There are some sensitive children who can’t differentiate what is real from what is unreal. People in scary costumes seem all too real for them and they are shaken up badly by seeing them.

It’s all in good fun, some may say, and while I am all for a good time, I feel that Halloween in these days has taken a turn for the worse.

I do not find it funny when a main focus is on mischief which becomes destruction of person and property. I don’t encourage the message that is sent of murder, chain saws, killing, knives, blood and harming others. That is going way over the line of the origins of Halloween. It particularly encourages the adolescents to partake in destructive activities and actions as this is a vulnerable time for them.

My idea of a healthy Halloween is one where we go back to the basic roots of a seasonal celebration. Carving pumpkins, bobbing for apples, making cider doughnuts, dressing up in costumes for fun. Fun, not fright. That’s what we did as children. We went trick or treating in our neighborhood, got candy and enjoyed the moment. We were content to have a day where we had an excess of candy to pick through and hoard for the coming months. We never threw eggs or put shaving cream on people. It wasn’t thought of, let alone allowed. Back in the day, as the kids now say, our parents would not have tolerated that behavior. There would have been consequences to going over the line like that. It appears that in this day, bad behaviour is tolerated if not condoned and there are no consequences.

We have an epidemic of anxiety in all age groups in our population. I see more children than ever before with anxiety disorders in my practice. Is it healthy to promote a holiday that encourages fear, fright, anxiety and sleeplessness? Is it proper or even moral to encourage ideals of murder, vengeance, rage, killing? Are we condoning these types of behaviors when we allow our children to dress up like Freddy or the chain saw murderer?

A healthy Halloween, in my opinion, is one where we celebrate a harvest holiday with the ideal of having a good time for all. Healthy respect for people and their property, treats from neighbors and lots of giggles and laughter. A few ghosties here and there, a skeleton or two, the flickering light from the carved pumpkins and a Halloween tale are all appropriate. Remembering the souls of dear ones who have passed and recalling how this holiday draws them close to us is a huge opportunity to teach what it means to “commune with the spirits.” That is called prayer in some circles. It allows for a time to practice “divination,” reflecting in silence the interior of yourself to “divine” the future. This is called meditation but can be introduced as divination in accordance with the holiday.

The simple pleasures of life. The “unseen” spirituality in life. We are responsible for teaching this to our children. It is something we have all lost sight of. Fortunately, we have an upcoming holiday where we can revisit this. What’s wrong with bobbing for apples and drinking cider? ... spiked, that is!

May The Blessings Be!

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