I like to decorate my home to reflect the seasons. A couple weeks ago I put away the exuberant summer accents—flowers, birds, symbols of growth and play—and brought out those that reflect fall in the Midwest.
Last night I put up the Halloween decorations. Yesterday my house had a peaceful, autumn-earthy, cozy feel. Today the serenity is interrupted by bursts of the odd, the creepy and the orange (which clashes with the abundant cherry red in my home).
I wasn’t going to; it takes time to haul out the boxes and select and place my adornments, my kids are grown and gone, and most of the neighbor kids have also grown up.
But I never thought Halloween was “just for children.” Beyond costumes and candy, to me the holiday expresses changes in the earth that happen only this time of year. Changes that I think are worth noting and pondering. By late October images of golden harvest and crimson autumn leaves don’t tell the whole story. Halloween decorations reflect the apparent death of plantlife, increasing darkness, active night creatures, and the spookiness of the unknown and unseen that darkness seems to bring. Though adding the creepy to the cozy may feel a bit jarring at times, to me the house is more alive, more real, since I did.
My decorations generally are not Disney-esque, smiling costumed children and cute animals devoid of anything dark or scary. Nor do I use the gory decorations so in vogue these days: the dripping hatchets, bloody bandages and body parts, bodies hanging in nooses. Or motion activated ones that scream and howl. Given the violence, insanity, and noise around us in our world I am not sure these reminders are either helpful or necessary.
Yet traditional Halloween decorations (leering pumpkins; stalking black cats; creeping spiders and bugs; flying owls, bats and witches; skeletons, scarecrows, vampires and ghosts) do reflect a subtle, palpable shift that happens here as the end of October approaches—it is striking how often Halloween is the exact day marking this shift. Our bodies begin to really feel the cold and dark. The honey sunlight of early fall becomes thin and pale. Colorful trees become skeletons as fall bluster aggressively strips them of their leaves. For centuries people have sensed that this is an auspicious time to honor (and perhaps communicate) with ancestors and other loved ones who have died. Roaming outside at night one feels an eeriness in the air that encourages speculation that maybe scarecrows and jack o’lanterns can jump up and wander the streets, that the unseen can be seen, and that much more out there is alive and full of tricks than we realize.
In this busy world of doing, scientific thinking and technology, I like being reminded of this nonrational earthy eeriness. (And speculating about which masks and costumes folks would choose to wear on Halloween in place of the masks and costumes they wear every other day. Pondering which ones I long to wear.)
I like how these images around my house awaken and amuse the imaginative child in me. The child who senses the world is bigger, stranger and more unknowable than we acknowledge. Who senses that light and dark are intertwined and equally vital. Yet who is both spooked and excited by those perceptions.
If not at Halloween, when else do we make space to get in touch with this dark energy of late fall?
Is the energy different for those of you living in warmer climates?
I’d love to hear.