Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. It's not about the candy. I'm not really a big fan of candy, but I love the costumes, the spiced cider, the pumpkins, the spooky decorations, and the willing suspension of disbelief. On Halloween if you say, "There are fairies dancing on my lawn" or "There's a ghost standing in the living room," people don't look at you like you're a weirdo. That's a holiday tailor made for a dreamer like me.
I also love the feeling of community that I associate with Halloween. I grew up in rural Wakulla County where there was a lot of forest between the houses, as well as miles to cover for trick or treating. The adults in our little section of woods would arrange a hayride to take all the kids around, up and down the unpaved, dirt roads to every winding driveway with a carved pumpkin out in front. That was the signal for the hayride to stop. Where there were jack-o-lanterns there was adventure to be found, so long as you were brave enough to trek down a dark, booby-trapped driveway and the make shift haunted house on the dimly lit porch to get your confectionery prize. You never knew for sure how many people would put out pumpkins for the hayride or what they might hang in the trees to scare kids on the way up to their house, but that was part of the fun, and of course, we knew these people. It was a small community in the middle of the Florida swamp, and we all knew it was safe to be scared. It was safe in general. Unlike many of my city friends, whose parents inspected their candy haul and threw out anything suspicious, we EXPECTED home made treats. Those were always the best. I think that is the reason I associate Halloween with community. I doubt kids today have the same kind of experience that I did, but based on the number of community centers that offer activities for youngsters on Halloween up here in Everett and all around the Seattle area, I would hope they still feel a sense of community and gathering in this day and age.
Sadly, along with all my warm and fuzzy feelings about the scariest night of the year, I have some very serious concerns that I would like to address. Having worked in animal rescue for many years, I have seen first hand that for some people, Halloween is an excuse to act out on internalized fears and long held superstitions. Black cats receive the brunt of the persecution. It may sound silly to most, especially those who are owners of loving pets that happen to have black fur. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for people with old superstitions to torture or even kill black cats (and sometimes black dogs, too) that they come across on Halloween night. If you own black furry companions, please keep them indoors. Not everyone out there knows, loves, and understands your pet the way you do.
I experienced the surprising truth that people still believe crazy superstitions about black cats for the first time when I was about 12 years old. I was walking down a winding dirt road into the swamp with a friend of mine when I happen to see a man throwing a black kitten out of the window of his trailer. I have often suffered the affliction of speaking my mind exactly as I see it without a lot of forethought, so I marched right onto this man's property prepared to tell him off about animal abuse. The little black kitten ran up to me, cheerfully vocalizing, so I scooped her up in my arms and banged on the door.
No sooner had I launched into my speech than the man bellowed back at me, red in the face and smelling of beer, "You want it? Take it! My daughter keeps bringing that thing in the house. I don't want no damned black cat around here! It'll bring bad luck down on all of us!" So, I did take the kitten. I named her Blackstar, and my family had that cat for 20 years. She was every bit the perfect feline companion, playful, bright, and loving. Why would anyone treat such a friendly cat so badly? Even more astonishing, how did Blackstar retain her friendly personality after being treated that way? From my point of view, she was a lucky creature. She was lucky to have found me, and everyone in my family was lucky to have her companionship. Now, more than 20 years later, I have another midnight cat. Her name is Abbey, and she is also a rescue who had to endure abuse and neglect before she found her forever home with me.
Abbey is the most Halloween cat I've ever seen. Her black fur is dusted with the occasional hint of pumpkin spice orange, and her eyes are every bit the full, pale yellow moon. This cat does not know the meaning of the word "fear." She's bold, talkative, and friendly to everyone who enters our house. I'm sure she will be the social butterfly among guests tonight at our Halloween dinner, but she will absolutely not be going outside. I know a lot of other people with very fine black feline and canine friends. Because I too know the value of a fine midnight cat, please, keep them indoors. Familiars are still persecuted in our modern age.
For tonight, I wish you all the blessings of community. May all your midnight cats sing happy songs to you from the warmth and safety of your living room. May your pumpkins be fat and your cider well spiced! Happy Samhain to all.