Seeking the Dark Side of Halloween

Chapel near Kylemore Abbey, Connemara, Ireland | Copyright Siri Paulson, 2004

Happy Halloween!

I’ve never been into Halloween that much, and I’m not one for ghost stories (unless they’re by Neil Gaiman). Sure, I’ve dressed up and gone trick-or-treating. This year I got to hand out candy from my very own front porch for the first time. And I’ve carved pumpkins and decorated lightly and read kids’ books about witches. But it’s never been my favourite holiday.

And yet.

What I do love is a darker, older tradition — parades full of frightening masks and ghoulish dummies.

The first time I saw such a parade was in Galway, Ireland. Floats and statues of witches and goblins were borne past an old church under grey skies. The mood wasn’t festive, but dark and spooky…not so far from the Celtic roots of Halloween.

There’s a similar parade here in Toronto, called Night of Dread. It’s a kid-friendly event and is well attended by people of all ages, but again, it has dark undertones. The costumed revelers are led down city streets by huge papier-mâché puppets in monstrous forms, with spooky music playing, then return to the community park where it started, where they go through a communal ritual of acknowledging and banishing fears.

These parades feel deeply satisfying to me, an important part of the turning of the seasons towards night and cold and waiting for the return of the sun…and truer than all the candy and kids in costumes, though I know that tradition has old roots too.

Halloween also represents something else — the evening before NaNoWriMo. I’m not doing it this year, but I’m well versed in NaNo cheerleading. Good luck to all you brave souls who are writing a novel in November!

What’s your favourite part of Halloween?

If you enjoy marking the turning of the seasons, you might enjoy Winter’s Night, a winter-themed anthology of SF&F short stories and poetry from Turtleduck Press. I’m one of the contributors and also the editor.

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