Last week I walked into the Dining Room and there on the mantelpiece was a spider the size of a three year old child. Even though it was obviously fake with its furry legs bent around like those on the Isle of Man flag it still made me jump.
Taking in the broader view I saw our ever talented and creative Lifestyle staff member Pamela Wheeler happily hanging up ghoulish bits and pieces to mark the up and coming Halloween celebration on 31st October; Bats, Black Cats, Witches, Goblins and Spiders of all sizes were artistically draped and menacingly positioned around the room. Spider’s webs were in such abundance that it felt like home. Another huge black army tank of a spider further along the wall delivered a second dose of loathing – all perfectly acceptable, actually sought after on this weird and becoming – immensely – popular yearly ritual.
“What do you think?” asked Pamela as she suspended a macabre skeleton draped in black chiffon from the central “arch way” “Brilliant”, I replied as indeed this collection of assorted hideousness was ….. “will it worry anyone unduly do you think?” she added and being insensitive to this possibility and overly reassuring (as the effort she had put into it all was enormous) I placated her fears by saying “it’s only for fun – a joke – everyone will “get it” and I’ll check with them all later on”.
Now Halloween seems to have “crept up” on us in Australia over the last 10 years or so. I used to think of it as one of the Grotesques of American Horror culture along with Teenage movies …. and Donald Trump. But it’s become a must have addition to the festivals and rituals of our yearly calendar.
I can well imagine the delight of kids dressing up in the most appalling of gear – for anything seems appropriate – bloodied zombies, bandaged half-dead ghouls, fiendish witches, devils, ghosts, vampires, even my Mother In Law, dead for 30 years she’d really fit in.
In fact bad taste and all that is forbidden, satanic and a shock to the senses is glorified and celebrated.
As she happily strung around body parts and morbid decorations, Pamela continued to fascinate me with a discussion of her research into what Halloween is all about, and I must admit I knew very little of its history.
Derived from Celtic and pagan ritual over 2,000 years ago (and traced to Ireland, UK and Northern France). It seems to be a tradition which has morphed over time to contain other elements of religious and cultural symbolism. As the Harvest season waned and winter approached, the souls of the dead were invited to visit in earthly form to keep the population and livestock safe through the dark months. Feasts and offerings were set, then games and amusements were enjoyed. Remnants of this are still performed through street parades and “trick or treat” games where the generosity displayed in giving food (sweets and such) is said to reward the giver. Pranks were played and general good natured Tom foolery was the order of the day over the centuries. Different countries adopted various interpretations and rituals. In Wales bonfires were lit and ash used to blacken faces for disguise, parts of Scotland saw cross-dressing for the event. Frequently encountered was the carving of faces into turnips, pumpkins and mango wurzels (a type of root vegetable) for the insertion of lit candles to scare away the bad spirits.
Eventually Christian practices became enmeshed in the event and “All Saints” day (whereby the saints are honoured and prayers offered for those recently deceased) eased seamlessly into the whole ritual.
I was so impressed by these insights that I decided to share them with the residents.
Now a group announcement of a spontaneous nature is rare. We normally discuss issues at our Resident’s Meeting but on the odd occasion when something’s crops up that needs immediate communication the only place where all are assembled is in the dining room.
At lunchtime I positioned myself between the kitchen and the tables and commenced what I felt would be a fascinating history of Halloween and a sensitive enquiring into the level of comfort (or otherwise) of our ghoulish dining room accoutrements.
The hearing level of our residents ranges from hyper-acute in one individual through to normal, impaired, hugely impaired and utterly deaf. My voice is quite loud when I want it to be and I hate the thought of anyone not hearing me and feeling left out. ‘Hello everyone!” I boomed out unfortunately forgetting that I was standing right behind our acutely-sensitive-to noise resident whose head jerked back and teeth nearly fell out.
…. This had not started well and as I stumbled through my discourse on Celtic rituals various faces looked bemused “what’s she saying asked one person”, “Buggered if I know” was the reply.
I finished quickly but added “If anything on display upsets you please let us know …. It’s all meant to be in fun but fun for some can be disturbing for others …..”
A day went by. The skeleton hanging in the middle of the room (and I mean ‘hanging’ as in the “by the neck” gallows sense) seemed to cause no offence. I suppose it was so over the top that it was ignored (Reminded me once years ago of giving out medications in a gorilla suit – no-one batted an eyelid) but what did worry several people were the spiders – not so much the impossible sized ones that looked like helicopters – but the more realistic ones (albeit that they were still ginormous by any standards). They had upset several people “I have always hated spiders and even though fake I hate seeing them”, said one lady. Another added “I’m having nightmares over those spiders”.
And so it came to pass that what seemed like a good idea at the time was bundled up and packed away. Save for a few little decorative bats and some miniature tokens of terror, the Dining Room returned to normal – as did the unfortunate resident whose head I nearly lifted off …… more tricked than treated I’d say.
Cheers to all ….. and Happy Halloween!