I was born in a country where Halloween tradition doesn’t exist, so I missed all the candy-collecting fun as a child, but the holiday itself had always seemed mesmerizing to me, especially in its darker and spookier way. The lanterns in the dark, the ghosts wandering between this world and another… What’s there for a speculative writer to not like?
In Poland this time of the year is marked with remembrance and reflection. After All Saints Day on the first of November comes the All Souls Day on the second, and it’s dedicated to our departed loved ones. We visit cemeteries (some people travel to the other side of Poland once a year), we light candles on the graves and decorate them with flowers. We also supposedly pray and reflect, but with the congested traffic and crowded cemeteries it sometimes feels untrue. But the real magic comes in the evening, when the cemeteries become empty… In the dark, a sea of small lights flickers and mesmerizes, and a walk among the graves allows to experience the warmth of their flames. As much as those days in Poland feel like a grave(ly) vanity fair (or a family catch up with the living relatives while standing over the dead ones), the evening experience compensates everything. I don’t have any pictures, but a quick Google search provided a fitting image.
Because of a different tradition in my home country, I only got to experience Halloween when I moved over to Ireland. The first one came just weeks after I’ve arrived, and in the midst of job-seeking and adapting to a new place, I pretty much missed it. My house mates had warned me it gets dangerous after dark in the neighborhood, and even though the evening turned out quiet, no one knocked on the door.
Next time, when I’ve moved to another area in Dublin, I got to admire the decorations of the neighboring houses, but I was going to Poland at the end of October, so I knew I’d miss it. I flew back to Dublin on Halloween afternoon and when I got home, I got to walk through brightly-lit neighborhood, full of children walking around and their parents chatting to their neighbors. Halloween that year seemed bright and quite a positive event, yet I didn’t have any candy and our house wasn’t decorated.
As years passed, I sank into the tradition unexpectedly, and both decorating the house and carving a pumpkin seemed like a fun thing to do. I’ve moved again, and my house mate enjoyed the idea of decorating our windows too, so we stocked up on candies and I carved my first pumpkins. A dragon and a face of Skruntch, a witch’s familiar. We gave away some candies, and the Halloween once more seemed a friendly event.
Then I moved again, and living in the very heart of the city meant no children-friendly neighborhoods and very few decorations. No one roamed the narrow corridors and stairways of the apartment buildings, and in the street one was more likely to see dressed-up (and drunk) party-goes than kids. Somehow, Halloween fell into the background again, but last year, my last year in Ireland, Myk Pilgrim had put me once more in the spooky holiday spirit, sending me a pumpkin lantern, so I gave in and carved my own too.
I didn’t dress up much as I’m not a social person and I don’t go to parties often, but during my early years in Ireland I worked in childcare, so I dressed up for work, for children, and one of my costumes was a tiger (a simple costume that wouldn’t interfere with work duties). Apparently, without my glasses and with the face paint on, I had to say something for the people to recognize me by my voice.
When I started working for a game publishing company, I missed one Halloween once again, but after that I participated in dressing-up. It sure was fun to see the coworkers all changed and share a few good laughs over their creativity when it came to costumes. I’m a firm believer that a Halloween costume should be made not bought, so even though the last time my company had organized the event I didn’t have much time to prepare, I still made my own costume. A minion from Despicable Me seemed a good choice for something quick: I had the right (over)weight, and blue overalls that had been a joke gift from Inq.
Now, I’m in yet another country and from mid-September all the shops had been reminding me that Halloween is coming. Almost like a child, I enjoyed looking at all the merchandise (and the biggest pumpkins I’ve seen in my life!), some maybe a bit tacky, but all very creative, and in a way it made me look forward to Halloween again. My area is quiet and it seems that mostly students live around, so I haven’t prepared to give out candy, but I’ll definitely carve a pumpkin… if I come up with some exciting design since the last year’s one set the standard high.
How about you? Do you celebrate Halloween? Do you have any particular memories connected with that holiday? What do you love or hate about it the most?
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games.
Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English.
Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.