The grey squirrel was introduced to these islands from North America. Bigger, stronger, and frankly prepared to fight dirtier than the indigenous red squirrel over the same environmental niche, the greys have all but taken over, squeezing the reds into smaller and smaller margins until today they are an extremely endangered species.
Bonfire Night (November 5th) was the indigenous autumnal festivity in England. Halloween has its roots in a Celtic festival, and the red-haired Celts were long ago driven out of England to the marginal eco-systems of Scotland, Wales and Ireland by grey waves of Romans and Anglo-Saxons…But pumpkins and trick-or-treat-ing were introduced from North America in the 1980’s (in Scotland, where I grew up, there is a traditional parallel to trick-or-treat-ing, but without the trick element), and have grown from strength to strength ever since. This year more than I remember before, the talk on the radio and the merchandise in the shops flows from October 31st to December 25th, without even a mention-in-passing of November 5th: in direct competition (falling only five days apart), the grey squirrel of Halloween is muscling-out the red squirrel of Bonfire Night…
The basic idea of trick-or-treat-ing is this: kids dress up and go out from door to door, asking the householder to give them a treat (sweets, chocolate, satsumas); and, if the householder turns them away, executing a trick (throwing eggs and flour against the window). Which has got me thinking of an activity that Jesus instituted:
“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’ But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.” (Luke 10:8-12)
Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered. He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one…” (Luke 22:35, 36)
All the elements of trick-or-treat-ing are here: the putting-on of a costume; the going from place to place; the accepting of invitations to come in and eat; the symbolic marking-out of those who reject the visitor…But with one significant twist: the door-stepper not only receives a gift, but brings a gift into the home.
The gift is peace – shalom, wholeness – spoken into being; expressing itself, where accepted, not simply as a warm, fuzzy feeling, but in tangible terms such as healing. It could not be further from the fear – especially in the elderly and the young – that arises from fright mask-ed trick-or-treat-ers.
Perhaps when they are a bit older, and no longer scared of people wearing masks, I might take my children out bearing gifts on Halloween…
Halloween , Bonfire Night , trickster , spirituality