Shifting Halloween Traditions
On Saturday, the Senior Center held an uproarious, over the top Queer Bingo party as a fundraiser for queer students in arts and humanities and students with learning disabilities. It was organized by the Center’s Queer Elder Family Group, and despite the total lack of alcohol (quite a few folks are in recovery), over 100 people had a fantastic time doing the bingo thing together. The costumes were outstanding and so creative; a huge, tumbling Marie Antoinette wig made of paper was my favorite, though an adorable mushroom was definitely a contender. The good cheer and kindness was truly heartwarming in a time when hearts can use a little extra hug.
Today, my little neighborhood is holding a Halloween costume parade, with treat stations and lots of decorations crammed into one short block. It’s a safe, fun way to get some goodies without the crazy, wild energy of the bigger candy frenzy going on downtown (just a few blocks away). We invite anyone of any age who feels overwhelmed by uproar but still wants to party a little, so there are folks of all ages, including participants from our nearby Special Needs Foundation. We started this during the pandemic shut down and decided to keep it going as a very pleasant, collaborative event.
The Ofrenda Path
On Saturday morning, I took a big bag of greenery, berries and flowers to the Bainbridge Island Art Museum in preparation for the annual ofrenda that’s made inside. To my surprise, I was tasked with creating a wide, floral path with two arms spread wide in an invitational wedge, so people are welcomed inside. I’d asked a friend to bring a bag of leaves and she had collected huge, heart-shaped leaves in vivid autumn colors from her Forest Pansy redbud. She decided to stay and help, so we scoured the little woodland behind the museum and cut sword ferns and huckleberries as well as salal and cedar and lovely gilded oak leaves. A friend brought great swags of redwood cut from a tree fed with her mom’s ashes. Someone dropped off buckets of hydrangeas and a bin of rose petals. The gardeners brought over wispy wands of Gaura and some late lilies.
As we worked, people stopped to ask about it and we invited them to join in. Quite a few folks did, arranging and adding as more offerings were dropped off. The result is beautiful and evocative, and the fact that it is a fleeting, ephemeral creation seems especially fitting for the setting and the event. As the wind stirs the petals and curls the flat leaves, as the flowers fade, the path will change, the bright colors softening into autumnal browns and soft gold. I love making art from natural materials, not least because it so often is a thing of the moment, created to pass away naturally. That’s why this path is so perfect, as in remembering our departed, we have the joy of our memories and we also taste the flavor our own ending.
As is traditional, the museum’s ofrenda holds candles, water, food and paper banners as well as flowers galore. Many people bring images of dear departed family and friends, as well as special things their special people loved. My grandkids recently lost a very dear young friend, a 14 year old transgender boy who killed himself a few weeks ago. We made candles and paper flowers and a little bowl of rainbow goldfish crackers for him and that seemed to be helpful for the children as well as the adults. A family of musicians played and sang at the opening of the ofrenda, and one young woman told me, “In Mexico, we have the traditional that nobody is really gone as long as they are remembered.”
In Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is a kindly, cheerful celebration of lost lives, focusing on appreciation and positive memories. People picnic near the ofrendas and surround pictures of their dead with candles and lanterns, favorite foods, a glass of water, and flowers. There’s joyful music and dancing, story telling and exchanges of memories happy and poignant and sad. Sorrow is not denied a place at the picnic table of memory, but it’s interwoven with strands of gladness for love and lives shared. In contrast, our northern candy holiday feels stripped of tradition (though I gotta say I love the costumes!). My personal Halloween is always tinged by loss—my husband died on Halloween, and so many friends and family have walked on in this season. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to the loving, vibrant traditions of our southern neighbors, with their acceptance of grief and loss as natural parts of a life fully lived.