When I was a young Badger, I started to understand that my country celebrates two Christmases. There's the solemn celebration of the birth of Christ, honoring God's promise of hope and salvation. And there's the warm, loving celebration of time with family and friends, exchanging gifts and drinking eggnog and singing about sleigh bells.
Even when I was Christian, those two holidays were different for me. When we went to evening/late services on Christmas Eve, I didn't associate the magical candlelight sermon on hope and love with the next morning's explosion of wrapping paper and Family Dinner. I found that the differentiation seemed easier for me than for many of my peers, over the years, as they wrestled with cramming spirituality into a Christmas stocking. And when I left Christianity, I had no trouble keeping Family Christmas alive in my life and discarding Spiritual Christmas, which had ceased to hold a deep meaning for me.
Lately I've been coming to understand that today has a similar dichotomy for me. There's Hallowe'en, which is the orgy of costumes and candy and spookiness that seems to bring out the kid in every last person. And there's Samhain, the dark winnowing to end the year, when the veils are thin and our dead stand among us.
I like Hallowe'en just fine. I like candy, and I like to see other people's costumes, and it's great to watch people get SO INTO creativity and expression because maybe they don't feel like they've got an excuse year-round. But I find that I celebrate it mostly by observation, by watching others embrace it. I have no costume ideas. I don't feel compelled to carve up a pumpkin for the office contest. While I totally respect the effort that goes into designing witch hats out of donuts, ice cream cones, frosting and sprinkles, I have no desire whatsoever to put forth that effort.
Samhain, though, is incredibly important for me. It's the time of the year when most are pulling inward to rest through the dark part of the year, when I and those like me, who have chosen the alternate path, begin our winter's burning to stand as guideposts and guardians. Today, so to speak, I take up my sword and begin my watch.
Today I stand in love and trust with my dead gathered around me, not mourning them but honoring them. I thank those voices that have spoken to guide me, I am grateful for those who walked into darkness to light my own way, giving me the courage to stand as light for others.
After long years of wrestling with this holiday dichotomy, I'm finally at peace with something: I don't celebrate Hallowe'en. I love to watch it go by. I laugh and enjoy other people's celebrations, and it makes me genuinely joyful to see all the fun and happiness. I am not, by any means, a Hallowe'en Grinch.
But this is one day of the year I have to stand apart, my loves. As I take up more fully the path of the Warrior, as I step more deeply into the Wood, sometimes I have to choose the path apart from the crowd, because what I am doing needs my full attention. I don't begrudge you the ability to balance the secular and the spiritual in your celebrations, to stir the cauldron and still use it to bob for apples. Perhaps in future years I'll manage that balance as well, but right now, at this time in my life, what I am doing in the spiritual consumes my focus.
I have been, as I do, resting this summer. Today is my last day of rest for a season. Tonight I gather my final harvest, draw upon the energies I've been storing, and light the fire I'll hold through until spring.
Let me say, because I do not say it often enough: I am more grateful than I can ever say to have been given this space to burn, this torch to bear. For the trust I am offered, for the chance to serve and ward, I am thankful. My harvest is not of the physical; it is the trust, respect, and love of those people, living and dead, who are part of my life.
I love you all.