Monday, October 28, 2013

Thursday we celebrate the strangest of American holidays—Halloween. 

For years I tried to ignore or reinvent it, which the Christian church attempted since they first met the Celts and their Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The festival of spirits loose on the earth was entirely too popular though, and All Saints Day didn’t catch on as a replacement.

As adult converts to Christianity, we were fanatics. So we planned alternatives to ghouls, witches, and Freddie Kruger. We hosted Noah’s Ark parties at church, and the kid dressed like animals. We didn’t let our kids go trick or treating. (They still grumble about it.) 

Then I became an elementary school teacher. There was just no way to ignore October 31st.  I wanted to keep the sense of fun, but temper the hoopla with some redeeming shred of learning. I found a book that delighted the kids, and still had some intrinsic value in a well-told story and lovely water-colors. 

The Witch's Hand, written by Brit Peter Utton, is imaginative, full of striking images, puns and enough thrill to keep kids (ages 6-9) hooked.  Son George sees a “horrible, brown, crinkly thing” on his father’s bulletin board and wants to know its origin. The dad hesitates, “no, I can’t tell you - it’s too scary.” But of course he recounts how the witch tried to kidnap sleeping George. Mummy (it’s England, remember) battles the witch and rescues her husband and son. The surprise ending diffuses any remaining fright and adds humor. 

I've further mellowed over the last thirty years, enough to make spider and eel costumes for my hard-to-please grandson. 

However I am doctrinally skeptical about our church sponsoring a big trunk or treat event. My husband asked if there would be any kids in witch or ghost costumes. (We are after all, twenty first century puritans.) With a touch of Saturday Night Live humor I suggested that he and I could sponsor the pit-of-hell playroom for the little pagans.  

But I think we'll just serve soup.

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