Thursday, November 1, 2012

Halloween Off-Season

I don't celebrate Halloween, never have and, perhaps, never will, save for the years when Colin will come home from school with a pumpkin on his head and a plastic spider in his pocket, with the sole purpose of the fake beast to give mom a genuine fright and with a great hope that she'll not turn the pumpkin into anything edible.

In fact, I don't know what Halloween celebrates exactly, I don't even bother to look it up. We never had it like this in Romania, but still there's something going on around this time that involves occult celebrations and evocation of the dead and, the more I think about it, the more I see a common denominator for customs and habits that stretch through different cultures.

To start with, either on the last day of October or the first of November, the Romanians celebrate the dead. At least the people in Transilvania do that. How they decide whether it's October or November is still a mystery to me and it depends randomly on the village/city, with the bonus that big cities do it for two days.

Whatever that means, it's gorgeous when you're a kid. I still remember how eager I was to attend it. The late people celebrated there meant very little to me (I never met my grandfather and surely not my father's grandparents) but the show was just a splendour.  In my village, the graveyard was/still is on a hill and it was teeming with lit candles that glowed in the night like a huge carpet on fire. And that was just the beginning, more or less like the commercials we get nowadays when we go out to see a movie. The real show was there, on the hill, in the eye of the fire.

As a kid, two events were top right then. One was to get candies (kind of trick or treat, but only treat) from every relative you had surely never met before and stuff yourself to the point of nausea and beyond but not giving up. The other one was even  better, for it occurred only there and then: you were allowed to play with fire. Mostly it meant that you used a lit candle to light the other ones, but that was something that you couldn't even dream of doing at home. And you were allowed to play with it for hours. As a small boy, the only thing that you still dreamt of was to grow a few years older, to be allowed to carry a torch. Of course, you'd get arrested nowadays if you carried one like that around, even put out, but times were simpler back then.

Well, so far two things are common already between the Romanian day of the dead and American feast: the netherworld and the candies. However, there is another one still, that intrigues me a bit - playing with pumpkins. I know, some of you might have read something already, but begone dirty minds! I am talking about the natural way of playing with pumpkins, long before I'd heard of such habits happening over the pond. My grandparents had a small patch of land on which they grew all kind of vegetables, pumpkins being one of them. It was a delight when they got ripe and we were allowed to play with them. And there's only one way to play with a pumpkin when you're a boy in the age of innocence: to mutilate it.

First of all, the scalp is severed from the body with utter care so it could be re-placed later on. Then the body gets eviscerated, all the seeds and the inner walls are taken out and deposited in a big trough so the pigs would eventually indulge in them. Then comes the art, id est the decoration of the face. I was always trailing back my cousin, who was 5 years older than me and had read all the books describing the red-skins and their ways to tend their complexion. But I was doing my best, as good as someone who had better grades in mathematics than in drawing can do. After the craft was complete, there were two things remained on the slate. The first one was damn difficult and it required high skills from our side: doing nothing, waiting for the night to fall. The other one was even more difficult, persuading our grandmother to give us candles, at least two, for me and my cousin. For those unfamiliar with communist times or Sandy hurricanes, candles were vital in those period, when power cuts were better schedulled than Japanese train timetables.

Needles to say, grandma always gave in, and we got our moments of glory when the hideously carved pumpkins glowed viciously in the dark to our full enjoyment. Of course, we had to give the candles back, to be put "in a safe place" by grandma, and to be asked again the next day. Have things changed that much ever since? Well, not quite, it's more like a pole shift. Then we lived in a world of infinite pumpkins and limited candles. Now it's only the other way around.

I'm thinking now: the poor pigs who ate those blackened pumpkins of the previous play-day, did they get addicted, like normal people do to smoke? And if so, were they happier?

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