Yesterday on Facebook and Twitter I requested topic suggestions for today’s blog, and obstinately chose the one from a Buddhist lama that required real effort. So as Domo Geshe Rinpoche so intriguingly puts it, “The weeks between thanksgiving and halloween transform us from ghouls and silly folk to virtuous and grateful people. How magical!”
There is an interesting progression among all three late-year holidays (and if you don’t count Halloween as a holiday, you’ve never been a kid). The common denominator: acquisition. That seems to be a pretty Western idea, which makes sense since Christianity forms the core of all three holiday observances.
Consider Halloween, originally a Celtic harvest/new year’s festival. The spirits of the dead could visit on that night, along with less savory denizens of the otherworld: hence the lighted pumpkins to scare those away. Christianity made everything pagan, satanic; now it’s not about honoring the dead and the harvest, but about controlled mischief which can then be blamed on the devil. The children say, "Give us candy or suffer our wrath." We pay the treat to avoid the trick.
A month later we have Thanksgiving. Hardcore Christians left Europe for a chance to freely repress themselves and ended up in New England with few survival skills. The first winter should have killed them (and what would the world be like if it had?) but instead the neighboring Native Americans helped them out, for which the Puritans were “thankful.” And we all know how that thankfulness worked out. Yet we still observe the concept, if not the history, as a chance to show our appreciation for what we have, usually by belching and falling asleep watching football.
I can’t help my sarcasm. I was raised among the best of hypocrites, who paid lip service to these holidays while using them as excuses to fatten themselves literally and metaphorically. But what if we did view it as Domo Geshe Rinpoche says? What if that change from the immaturity of “trick or treat” to the maturity of “I am thankful” really happened? What if we as a society publicly cycled from adolescence to maturity within the space of the month? That truly would be magical.
Saturday night I watched my sons go trick-or-treating and saw their delight with the candy they received. In a month I’ll see them around a table loaded with an obscene amount of unhealthy food, which will not demonstrate thankfulness to them in any meaningful way. It never did to me as a child, either; I’m not sure what would.
Maybe as a child, you shouldn’t be allowed to eat your candy on Halloween night. Maybe you should have to keep it, out of sight and out of mind, until Thanksgiving. You'd be thankful then, boy. Or maybe we need to somehow give “I am thankful” the same sense of fun as “trick or treat.”