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Offbeat – 26 October 2012

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Whether approaching darkness, or the long hot days of the southern summer, Halloween has become important to me, to the point where I made a comment on Facebook that I am worried about the encroachment of the pink of breast cancer on the day.

It’s almost Halloween again, that time for minor frights and excessive consumption. We don’t do the thing here, so I will have to look at it through the filter of US media. My prediction is that the white masks with the droopy eyes and hanging mouth will be out of fashion. I expect there will be lots of zombies, and mini-Edwards. I’m also laying good odds on Romney and Obama masks.
I’m not sure if I’ll be doing a pumpkin for my daughter this year. Getting the thing done last year was very hard work. The skin was tough and thick. The seeds kept on sliding off the spoon, The flesh didn’t come out all that easily either. I suppose the Americans have different pumpkins, with thinner skin. Still, the result was pleasing. We sat outside and told ghost stories with the grinning Jack-o-Lantern flickering in the background.
The season is reversed. In the northern hemisphere, the dark of winter approaches. I suppose it’s one of the last opportunities for kids to spend a night running around. In the southern hemisphere, the days get longer and the evenings should theoretically be balmy.
Whether approaching darkness, or the long hot days of the southern summer, Halloween has become important to me, to the point where I made a comment on Facebook that I am worried about the encroachment of the pink of breast cancer on the day.
In a recent guest blog post, I was reminded of a Xhosa friend who cut back on alcohol because his ancestors could not bring him council. This sort of thing becomes interesting because it is a formalized cultural phenomenon. It’s not only the Xhosas who receive dreams from family who have passed on.
Both my mother and father came to me in dreams. The dreams did not bring me council, but in the case of my mother, showed me that she was getting by, and told me not to worry. Other dreams came, but those are private. The dream from my father was a lot darker, and private as well.
Is it just a memory? I think not. I received a dream from my Grandfather, the night he died. I was a naughty eighteen year old, and he told me to get it together and stop my nonsense. We found out the next day that he had died.
There is another incident that tells me that these dreams have an element of truth. I saw the face of my great grandfather in a dream before I saw a photo of him. When I saw a photo of him for the first time, it tallied. Strange but true.
I’m not the only one. My mother spoke of dreams from my grandfather. An old Greek woman I knew spoke of the reassuring presence of her departed husband, next to her when she awoke, for the first few weeks after he died. It crosses cultural boundaries and is found around the world, not just amongst the Xhosas.
The dead aren’t gone. They have just moved on, perhaps into dreams.
We don’t talk about dreams of the dead. The orthodoxy of the Abrahamic religions wants souls to be in Heaven, where they prove the point of eternal reward to the faithful, in heavenly beach houses, paradise with sorbet and virgins, or in the box under the celestial throne. It’s also scientifically unpopular. There will be hordes of atheists and secular rationalists who will be very happy to scoff at this. But it is a belief that I harbour based on my own experience.
Segue to Halloween, and the kids glutting themselves on sweets, screams and stereotype chills. Spend. Spend. Spend.
Actually, that’s not what it is about. It’s a time to remember the dead, to reconnect to them: family, friends and people we knew, with or without emotions. In parts of Latin America and Europe, it becomes a day out beside the graves of loved ones. It might be a bit of a stretch for many of us, but what about making the connection by remembering? That should temper the excess.
One of the stereotype horror stories entails a person who loses his or her past through forgetting. That’s far more frightening than a sheet going ‘woooh’. Remembering the dead, in dreams and in waking, is how I affirm my humanity. That’s why Halloween is special to me.

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