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Tracey E.Schelmetic

[October 31, 2001]

Dot Com Commerce

By Tracey E. Schelmetic
Managing Editor, CUSTOMER INTER@CTION Solutions

The Allegory Of Halloween, The Economy And The World

Today is Halloween. Due to the misfortune of an unwell computer and other smaller factors, I am actually writing this on Wednesday, October 31st, 2001. On my way home last night, in the dark, I could see the nearly full moon of October (called by our ancestors the "hunter's moon"). It started me thinking about the origins of the popular Halloween we celebrate today, and how particularly appropriate the holiday is this year regarding both our economical and national situations.

To the pagans of pre-Christian Europe, today is the last day of the year. The harvest is finished, the first frosts have killed anything left in the field or on the vine, and the hunting is finished, as there is little daylight left by which to hunt. The festival (called Samhain by its celebrants) involved thanking the gods and goddesses for the harvest, the hunt and the fact that those still alive to celebrate the festival had managed to dodge the plague for yet another year. The pre-Christian pagans, particularly the Celts, believed that the year was a great wheel that represented the cyclical aspects of nature and life in general. In order to appreciate the joy of being alive and celebrating the spring's lighthearted fertility festivals, one had to pay the price and willingly accept the darker aspects of life at the end of the year, paying homage to the not-quite-so-benign gods and goddesses that brought dark and cold and the understanding that strife is the opposite side of the coin of prosperityand just as much a part of life. As a result, this was the time of year to salute departed friends, relatives and ancestors, as the pagans believed that this was the time of year the "veil" that separated life from the afterlife was the thinnest. (This association with "ghosts" is the root of the modern Halloween holiday.)

November 1st began the new yearit also began a long wait. Considering that the bulk of Europe sits north of the U.S. in terms of latitude, the darkness of the autumn and early winter months must have been even more intense and long. Without farming or hunting to occupy the days, people stayed in their homes and began a fight for themselves, their families and their livestock to survive by staying warm and fed. The first goal of their wait was the old holiday festival of Yule, which takes place on approximately December 21st and marks the winter solstice, at which time the days begin to lengthen and the "light" cycle of the wheel of the year begins. The sun, usually seen as a representation of a god to many pagan peoples, returned to the earth.

Modern life has lost touch with nature so completely that the origins of these old festivals have nearly disappeared. Few of us have lived in a world in which fresh meat or produce could not be acquired in the winter by a quick trip to the supermarket. More modern religions' holidays celebrate people and historical events, not the pulse of the earth.

It's when the cycle of the earth is so significantly aligned with the experiences of its people that the old meanings come back. (Well, to commuting ponderers like myself, anyway. Someday I'll write about the theory of life, the Universe and everything I developed while picking out spinach bagels in the supermarket.)

On Monday night, the people of the U.S. (and the world, if they were watching American news channels) received a warning from the FBI and John Ashcroft that intelligence had been gathered that pointed to the possibility of another terrorist attack in the very near future. Though we were urged to go about our regular lives, we have collectively gone into survival modedoing little frivolous or non-necessary shopping, making sure the gas tank is always full, canceling vacations, double-checking mail, staying closer to home and even hesitating to send children out trick-or-treating. It's the dark time of the year both literally and figuratively, and we have suddenly remembered (or realized for the first time in the case of younger people) that life isn't always carefree and prosperous. We, too, wait in the dark, like many of our ancestors did, awaiting the renewal. Politics and economics being slightly less reliable than astrophysics, we cannot guarantee the return of safety and prosperity on December 21st.

But we can remember that with success and contentment, there is occasionally a price to be paid in uncertainty. How we behave during the darker times reflects on us as people. Perhaps it makes us realize that the acquisition of this year's Prada bag or getting rid of the ugly orange tile in the bathroom fall pretty far down on the list of Things That Are Important. Our ancestors considered themselves lucky to have made it through another year without getting eaten by wolves or falling victim to an infection caused by a hangnail.

Without sounding pedantic (it may be too late for that), I'm going to spend the dark part of the cycle being thankful for a roof, central heating, a full fridge, friends and family, inexpensive cabernet sauvignon and Mrs. Fields' white chunk macadamia cookies.

The author, who is still miffed that she's too old to trick-or-treat, may be contacted at tschelmetic@tmcnet.com.

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