Retorts: October’s delights and issues

OCTOBER is famous for pumpkins, Halloween and the World Series (Flickr/Will Montague).

“October had tremendous possibility. The summer’s oppressive heat was a distant memory, and the golden leaves promised a world full of beautiful adventures. They made me believe in miracles.” 
 Sarah Guillory, “Reclaimed”

What a wonderful month October is. The merry season holidays, which bring people together, are on their way. Baseball, football, basketball and ice hockey are all in action, a harmonic convergence that no other month can match.

The sky has a kind of softness which summer and winter lack. Hollywood is starting to shed its disposable mindless summer fare, and the cooling temperatures are putting us back into huggable sweaters and sensible shoes.

October’s holiday is unique, although recently mildly controversial. Halloween has many ways of being looked at. On the one hand, it’s an event which encourages kids to knock on strangers’ doors and beg for candy, something quite contrary to what parents try to drill into your head from the first moment you had the sense to listen to them.

On the other hand, it’s a great kid festival that’s expanded to embrace the older folks, too. Youngsters get to dress up and – sometimes – show a little originality in designing their own outfits. Then, as play-actors, they get to roam the neighborhood to collect bags and bags of fattening, sugary treats, a one-night reproach to the nanny society that wants you to drink soy milk and eat sesame seed bars as a treat.

Grown-ups have Halloween parties featuring costumes that run from the whimsical to the daring. I knew one person who dressed as a baked potato, and another as a turkey. You can buy outfits this year to make you look like a fidget spinner or a bottle of your favorite soft drink.

Some businesses and offices encourage this kind of dress as a means of building esprit de corps or amusing customers. It’s all in fun and as long as the envelope isn’t pushed too much, pretty harmless. No one ever got arrested driving home from indulging in too many M&Ms or Snickers. I think.

Having said that, Halloween, like all holidays, is taking some heat. Columbus Day is rapidly being either ignored or repurposed as Discovery Day or Indigenous People’s Day. The “discoverer” of the New World treated the native people of the Western Hemisphere pretty harshly and he is blamed for starting the chain of events that drastically depopulated both North and South America.

Christmas has taken a hit as well. We now hear about Winter Break and Winter Festivals instead of the former Christmas Vacation and Christmas Festival. The notion has taken hold that using “Christmas” was exclusionary toward people who weren’t of the Christian faith. A similar fate has befallen Easter.

And now we come to All Hallow’s Eve, slanged into Halloween. Its origins go back to the Celtic celebration of Samhain, when people lit bonfires and dressed in costumes. Pope Gregory I in the eighth century, declared Nov. 1 to be All Saints Day, making the day before – the Eve – the last chance for demons and evil spirits to run wild before the Saints took over.

Of course, today, we have all but forgotten the sectarian roots of the holiday, but there are those who resist Halloween on the grounds that its amounts to a kind of devil worship, and rebranded the festivities as a Harvest Day or Festival, even though the vast majority of Americans stopped harvesting about 70 years ago.

Even Thanksgiving – my favorite! – is losing some altitude on the grounds that is symbolically “kicked off” the Europeans pushing the Native Americans off their lands.

Although Christmas has its roots in Christianity, it’s as much a folk holiday as anything else. I knew Jewish families with Christmas trees and never knew anyone to bristle at a kind “Merry Christmas!” wish regardless of their spiritual standing.

“Season’s Greetings” is not anti-Christmas; it’s a long-honored term incorporating the whole holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.

In these divisive days in which efforts to drive wedges between us bring in higher ratings and more money, I wish we could use what remains of October to start thinking about ways in which our holidays actually bring us together.

Regardless of their origins, holidays can be an occasion to share, gather and reunite, help the needy and reflect on the year going by. Those are things worth celebrating, no matter what you choose to call them.

Jim Tortolano’s Retorts usually appears on Wednesday, but ….

Categories: Opinion

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