Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween or Saint Martin's day

Some weeks ago, while driving to the playroom to meet my friend David, some scary figures (human size dolls with masks) started to show up along the road. Each time I passed one of them, I thought: "What the heck are they thinking? Why would you want to do that? What do they want to accomplish? What is it that I don't understand?"

In many ways, the American celebration of Halloween is similar to the Saint Martin (Sint Maarten) celebration I grew up with in The Netherlands, except scary people, masks and demons were never part of the celebrations I participated in.

Realizing that I had some judgments about this (the scary) part of the Halloween, I decided to educate myself on Halloween.

Halloween, October 31
While "googling" around (is this an accepted verb these days?), I read that Halloween traces its origins to ancient pagan customs. I read that Halloween originated among the Druids in the lands of the ancient Celts in pre-Christian Gaul and Britain. The Druids believed the night was filled with demons and foul spirits who roamed the land to celebrate the return of the cold and dark. People tried to buy their freedom by offering food and assorted treats. It is believed that they also used to ward off harmful spirits by wearing costumes and masks.

Now that I understand where the scary part comes in, we can compare Halloween with the Saint Martin's Day.

Saint Martin's Day, November 11
Martin of Tours was born in the 4th Century and started out as a Roman soldier who later became a monk. His exemplary life (one of the legends tells how he cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar who was dying in the cold) led to his appointment as the Bishop of Tours (supposedly against his will).

St. Martin's Day is celebrated on the evening of November 11. Carrying hand-made lanterns, children go door to door while singing special lantern songs at each house. Much like trick-or-treating during Haloween, the children are given fruits, candy, money and other goodies as a reward for their singing and the beauty of their homemade or purchased lanterns.

Basically, Saint Martin's Day is a different celebration coming from a different origin. Cool.

"So", I ask myself, "Why is it that the Halloween celebration that started so close to my birth country is celebrated in the US, but not in the Netherlands?"

I googled a bit more and found out that Halloween is celebrated in the Netherlands! In fact, there are some areas in the Netherlands where people celebrate a Halloween type of event to scare away the bad spirits. The event occurs at about the same time as the American Halloween.

Cool. Now I know.

So What?
What I take away from all this is that the people around me are not trying to scare me; they're trying to scare demons and foul spirits. Also, this is not just some American thing; people do this in lots of different places around the world.

Now I'm wondering, "Why? Are most of us just a bunch of scared people? Do we believe in scary devils and evil spirits? Are we really buying our freedom and negotiating the freedom of our children?"

I doubt it...

As for me, I think I'll hold onto Saint Martin's day!

Bring your children by on November 11 with their lanterns, and we'll sing together while consuming goodies to celebrate Saint Martin's exemplary way of life.

Happy Halloween!

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