Halloween - In October?



Kate Strong


Halloween, celebrated on October 31st, is growing in popularity every year. Children trick-or treating, halloween balls, and school fairs with children dressing up in ghoulish costumes.

Copycatted from the United States we have lost the significance of one of the most powerful seasonal celebrations of the year.

Halloween, or Samhain as it is otherwise known, is a festival to honour the dead. It's a late Autumn ritual. And we in the Southern Hemisphere have carried on our ancestral traditional celebrations totally out of sync with our seasons.

How many of us know that our festivals are based on pagan celebrations, pre-dating Christianity?

"Although the Romans killed and suppressed the Druid priesthood, they did not succeed in destroying the seasonal festivals; rather they took the course of attaching the Christian celebrations to the old pagan ones.

"British colonisers imported the Roman calendar without any adjustment to the fact that Aotearoa/New Zealand is a Southern Hemisphere island in the Pacific Ocean," says Juliet Batten author of Celebrating the Southern Seasons - rituals for Aotearoa.

Batten says that "because of this a serious dislocation has taken place and each of the celebrations has been severed from its roots in seasonal activity."

Halloween isn't the only festival we celebrate out of sync. Christmas, which originally was celebrated as Yule, a Winter solstice festival, occurred on the longest night of the year signifying the coming of the light. We celebrate it here around the longest day of the year; the coming of the dark.

Easter, a Spring festival, celebrated with eggs, rabbits and hens, is symbolic of new beginnings, new growth and resurrection from the dead. Why do we celebrate this in early April which is Autumn? Do we care anyway about the significance of these events? Aren't they just days off work?

An explanation for this lack of adjustment can be found in the lifestyle and social attitudes of the first Europeans to colonise New Zealand.

"Many of the new arrivals, daunted by the overwhelming task of surviving in an alien land, simply imposed their European concepts upon it," says Batten.

She believes there were SOME immigrants who were open and respectful of the people and the lands' sacredness, but there were others who saw land as "a commodity to be bought, stolen or seized."

Another explanation can be found in the reasons for the mass exodus from Britain to New Zealand. The people were "a community of immigrants, largely driven from their homelands by social adversity," says Tony Simpson author of The Immigrants - the great migration from Britain to New Zealand - 1830-1890.

Lured to New Zealand by propaganda, with posters depicting before and after pictures showing poverty to wealth and hunger to bounty. Many immigrants on arrival were deeply disappointed at the sight before them.

Simpson says Lieutenant John Wood, a passenger on board an early ship wrote: "The passengers were all on deck straining their eyes to catch a glimpse of civilisation. Little was said, though disappointment was visible on the countenance of everyone."

New Zealand showed much hope for the working class man. If you weren't prepared to work, and work hard, then there was no point in coming here. Perhaps these people had no time for celebrations, these were trivialities compared to the tasks at hand.

An anonymous woman author wrote in Taken In A Sketch of NZ Life, in the 1880's, "Those who love money-grubbing to the depth of their souls and care not what hardness or trouble they go through to attain this much wished for goal, and those who have little softness or refinement in their nature, will get on well."

As part of a nation founded on a pioneering spirit have we failed to notice we've arrived. We're here! Are we still in the mindset of trying to establish ourselves? Have we taken a breather and connected with this land? Or are we carrying on the legacy of homesickness that the past generations have handed down?

"The political culture which grew out of the nineteenth-century experience of emigration to New Zealand has continued to lie at the root of most of the social attitudes of New Zealanders and the political actions which have flowed from them," says Simpson.

Batten agrees. She believes it's about "finding our place of spiritual belonging here. It might be about daring to belong and daring to connect with the spirit of the land."

If we open our eyes we can acknowledge that "we enter into a partnership with both the land and its people. We might find in ourselves a place of deep respect - for the land and all its people - past, present and future."

Christchurch Psychotherapist and Priestess Sue Beesley is a facilitator of rituals celebrating the southern seasons.

"Innate in every being is the need to celebrate. The need to come together as a tribe and "be". With our grief, that was Princess Diana, and with our joy, that's Christmas."

Because there's a valid urge to gather, with no anchoring into anything meaningful Beesley believes "you have people getting pissed. There's nothing sacred. By sacred I don't mean serious, I mean full of life.
"Society is losing the deep tap roots that go into why we're doing anything. Those tap roots are withering, we're getting shallower. People are looking to material things for satisfaction. It's really urgent that we follow the flow of the seasons and of our own body rhythms - otherwise we get sick."

New Zealand needs to claim who she is in EVERY aspect. "Why question it because the motherland tells us everything, it's being the good little child."

Is it time for New Zealand to come of age?


Author Bio

Kate Strong is a writer living in Christchurch, New Zealand. She is also the NZ Representative for the Australian Chapter of the Romance Writers of America. Most days she can be found cueing up to use the computer along with her two boys and her husband. She is most certainly an email addict.



This article Copyright © 1998. Kate Strong. All rights reserved.
This page last updated 10-10-98.
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