Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Trick or Oppression?

I have loved Halloween ever since I  came to America seven years ago. Yes, yes, I know it’s commercial, sugar and additives heavy, and, of course, the denigration of the customs and culture of a downtrodden religion.

But I love how everyone can throw on a costume for a few hours, get all excited and friendly … even the kids who usually view everything through 3-D or a small multi-pixeled screen. Perhaps it’s living in Berkeley (I have no experience outside of cold, awkward England), but when whole streets get into the swing together, something very special happens, if only for an evening.

But under the sweets and costumes, there is a beautiful religious celebration from a religion that the three major religions, when they couldn’t stamp it out, embraced and added their own cultural context. Any festival in any of our modern religions that has a harvest or seasonal aspect was probably once a Pagan festival.

My first novel, A Gardener’s Tale, illustrated the struggle between the Pagan religions and Christianity in rural England. It follows two years in the lives of a village and the stranger who comes into their community. As the villagers fear for the breakdown of their community, they discover an ancient path that brings them together.

It is happening today more than ever. How many of us really know our neighbors and those living across the road? My neighborhood began a community initiative to get to know each other after a woman was attacked by a man who tried to steal her handbag. As she screamed for help, there was a spontaneous outpour of people from their houses. Out of nowhere, that street became a community.

We need Halloweens to bind us together rather than crimes. With so much conflict in the world focused around religion, perhaps we also need the gentler, older religions. Mother Earth certainly does.

So here’s to candy and spontaneous celebration. Happy Samhain, everyone.

Note: An e-book of A Gardener’s Tale will be released in November 2011 on Kindle for $2.99

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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