I'll be the one dressed as Scrooge

Peter
Peter Jackson
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Feb. 16, 2010. Mark that date on your calendar. It's important. That is the day the English call Shrove Tuesday. Around these parts, the most anyone does on that day is fry up a plateful of pancakes. But throughout Europe and Latin America, the days leading up to Shrove Tuesday are called Carnival. It's a time to party your face off. They have big parades, where bejewelled young women leave little to the imagination under huge, feathered headgear. It's the last big wing-ding before Lent. During Lent, everyone has to chill out and give up indulgences like meat, chocolate and excessive iPhone use.

Why is this important, you ask?

Because in French quarters, as in New Orleans, the festival is called Mardi Gras ("Fat Tuesday"). And this weekend, George Street will host an annual party inexplicably referred to as Halloween Mardi Gras.

Feb. 16, 2010. Mark that date on your calendar. It's important. That is the day the English call Shrove Tuesday. Around these parts, the most anyone does on that day is fry up a plateful of pancakes. But throughout Europe and Latin America, the days leading up to Shrove Tuesday are called Carnival. It's a time to party your face off. They have big parades, where bejewelled young women leave little to the imagination under huge, feathered headgear. It's the last big wing-ding before Lent. During Lent, everyone has to chill out and give up indulgences like meat, chocolate and excessive iPhone use.

Why is this important, you ask?

Because in French quarters, as in New Orleans, the festival is called Mardi Gras ("Fat Tuesday"). And this weekend, George Street will host an annual party inexplicably referred to as Halloween Mardi Gras.

If the reason for merging these two distinct celebrations was because of hard economic times, I could understand. But that's not the reason, is it? The reason is that some genius in Halifax decided to mix the terms up, and organizers in St. John's who co-opted the idea have been too ignorant or too stubborn to fix it.

It's bad enough that Halloween - Hallows E'en, the day before All Saints Day - has become so divorced from its own origins. Now we have to sort out the mess of someone who thoroughly confused it with another day altogether. Other than the fact that both are excuses to party, they have nothing in common. You may as well throw a Good Palm Friday Christmas party. You could have the Easter Bunny hopping around in a Santa hat, waving palm fronds and handing out Halloween candy.

I'm not saying this because I'm a devout church-goer. I'm not. And I don't care if Halloween falls on a Sunday some years. I don't care if all those godless spooks are out trick-or-treating on the Lord's day. Frankly, I don't think the Lord cares, either.

Admittedly ... it's a blast

Halloween, I'll admit, has become popular for a few defensible reasons. For one thing, it's a blast. Kids get to cruise the streets dressed as witches and U.S. presidents, and rake in loads of sugar-laden loot. How could you deny that to a child?

Halloween is also a time to indulge our fears and superstitions and, more to the point, send them up. Churches who ban or condemn observance of Halloween just don't get it. This is a time to parade out old, irrational fears and parody them. That aspect of it should be embraced, not shunned.

Another commercialized holiday

What I dislike about Halloween is that it has become yet one more orgy of excessive commercialism. Right now, there are Halloween decorations on my inside office window. Someone put them there almost a month ago. There's a big, black spider and cartoon images of ghosts and pumpkins. There's a smiling vampire holding a cross and a wine glass of what I assume is blood but could just as easily be old-vine zinfandel.

So, here we have a curious mix of images, all indicative of how commercialism can completely envelop and cloud over the true meaning of an occasion. Sound familiar?

About a week ago, police were called to the scene of an accident on Thorburn Road. A van had crashed through a fence and the driver was slumped over the steering wheel. Except it wasn't an accident, it was a Halloween decoration, and the driver was a mannequin.

"Hey, kids, let's pretend a van has crashed through our fence, killing the lone driver! Wouldn't that be fun?"

Halloween decoration or tasteless hoax? You decide.

Creeping out the neighbours

Either way, we've long since graduated from the run-by-the-graveyard themes. Traditional ghosts and goblins don't cut it, so everyone's looking for new ways to creep out the neighbours.

And that goes for costumes, too. Along with the princesses and pirates, you'll see very young children dressed up as various fictional icons of homicidal gore.

There's that fellow who looks like Popeye except for the Ginsu fingernails. And there's the chap with the fleshy mask and apron wielding a chainsaw (which, I assume, he can actually start on the first yank).

Along with being downright warped, these human menaces have little to do with Halloween. Halloween is when mischievous spirits get in a few last kicks before being driven out by the souls of the holy. God-fearing Christians hide in their homes and bribe the ghostly tykes with candy. On Nov. 1, everyone emerges to celebrate communion with all saints, known and unknown, living and dead.

A big, friendly, spiritual rendezvous - that's a nice thought, isn't it? Why can't that have turned into an outlandish, commercialized holiday? Old St. Nick would fit in perfectly. Who cares if the true meaning got lost in the glitz?

Oh well. It's time to break out the broomsticks and pitchforks. Make sure the kiddies are wearing something reflective. And don't go putting candles in the jack-o'lantern unless you have a full-time firefighter stationed in your porch. Nothing worse than the smell of burnt pumpkin.

Trick or treat? Is there another choice?

Peter Jackson is The Telegram's commentary editor. He can be contacted by e-mail at pjackson@thetelegram.com.

Geographic location: Europe, Latin America, New Orleans George Street Halifax St. John's U.S. Thorburn Road

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