Halloween is cultural appropriation, it should be cancelled writes Mark Dougherty. The time has come to make Halloween Samhain again.
Halloween is the bastardisation of the most important festival of our ancestors, Samhain, a festival that has been celebrated for thousands of years on this island. It is an Anglo American consumeristic affront to our unique and beautiful cultural heritage that has been turned into plastic profanity.
Samhain is the first great winter celebration on the ancient Celtic calendar. Each year it falls exactly between the important astronomical events of the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. Our Celtic ancestors viewed Samhain and this time of year with extreme importance. The world around them was dying, descending into a dark and cold winter, but they understood that the world had to die in order to be reborn.
The Celts lived in a world of opposites, the otherworld existing as a parallel universe. When we are born here, we die there, and when we die there, we are born here. When it is winter here, it is summer there. As our sun sets, theirs rises. In this belief system, Samhain can be seen in a different light.
At Samhain, the otherworld blurred into this world, and beings from the other dimension could visit for the night. People laid out food for the dearly departed, for on this night, the ancestors were alive again. Fires were lit and games were played, great fun was had and the ghosts were all around. In a world without end, as the Celts believed, where death was also a rebirth, Samhain was a great reunion of souls.
But things could also get out of hand on Samhain. The open portal to the otherworld allowed all sorts of mischievous energies to abound. People made masks to hide their appearance from the fairies, in case they were stolen away, or nasty tricks were played upon them. You couldn’t trust anybody being who they said they were on this night. On Samhain, a wonderful chaos reigned.
Halloween is now a globalised celebration, one more mark on the corporate calendar. Another chance to consume, another chance for greed.
At the start of August, supermarkets have already began to hawk their Halloween decor. This year it’s a fall ascetic, wreaths of autumnal leaves, muted tones, natural looking skeletons, all made of plastic. From an ecological point of view, Halloween is a disaster, coming second only to Christmas for its extreme wastefulness. In a world suffering with environmental upheaval, plastic spider webs are an ecocide.
Ritual is extremely important in society, what we celebrate and how we celebrate define who we are. Samhain is a unique Irish phenomenon, one that Ireland can be truly proud of. It is also a chance for cultural rebirth, a turning away from the consumeristic frenzy that is destroying our world to a more holistic and sustainable celebration of life, death and community. By honouring Samhain, we don’t just honour the ancestors who came before us, we honour ourselves and the world we live in. By celebrating Samhain instead of Halloween, we can connect ourselves to an ancient past, and looking to the future, we can decide what we celebrate, how we celebrate and why. Samhain is a wonderful chance for transformation.
So this year, don’t say Halloween. Don’t buy the plastic masks. Instead, take a walk through nature with a friend and collect some natural materials and make yourself a costume. Help the kids make theirs. Carve a turnip. Hide from the fairies. Celebrate something that gives hope and life.
There will be a community Samhain parade on Sunday, November 6 this year in Clonakilty, followed by a fire performance in Emmet Square. People are invited to make their own costumes out of natural or recycled materials and to join in the celebrations. Together we can make Halloween Samhain again.