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Halloween night has come and gone. It was a good night, not too cold and blessedly snow-free. Lots of people of all ages were out and about having a good time. I sat outside on my porch for awhile, handing out candy and watching people walk by. I like to see the little people in their costumes. It reminds me of when my children were young and nearly hysterical with excitement.
Seeing so many people out and about and generally happy in the community was nice. I remember my Great Aunt telling me about how children in her day used to dress up and bring anything they could find that was burnable to the middle of a street to build a huge bonfire on Halloween night. I recall thinking that it sounded like a pretty dangerous way to spend the evening but it was perfectly normal when she was young. This would have been just at the turn of the 20th century when Halloween was still very strongly a hold over from the Celtic celebration of Somhaim, a harvest related event where it was believed that the natural and supernatural worlds overlapped and magic was a possibility. In ancient times the Druids would oversee the building of giant bonfires that burned through the night to scare off any spirits, evil or otherwise, that might cross over and be up to no good, hence the association of Halloween with general mischief.
There is something truly satisfying about seeing a community out and about and gathering together for a celebration. Sometimes it feels as if the only time a community is together is during some kind of horrifying disaster. It is nice when it is the result of a cheery holiday rather than a flood or earthquake. When I was younger I spent some time with a woman who was 100 years old who had grown up in a small town in New York State. She once told me that when she was young a lovely summer evening would find nearly everyone in town taking a stroll together after supper. Her parents would take her and her brothers to the local park, located in the center of town, where there would be a band playing, children frolicking, and people chatting with their neighbors. She said that it was a frequent occurrence back then which was only curtailed by really bad rain or frigid cold. She told me how there was a pond in the park that the local firemen would clear for ice skating in the winter and on fine days it would be filled with happy skaters of all ages. She had very fond memories of all the good times she spent their with her brothers, the neighborhood kids, and her parents.
This was the way that communities came together to meet, communicate, and get to know each other. It just doesn't seem to happen that way anymore. For one thing, except in the smallest towns, there are just too many people, although Central Park in New York City used to be utilized in much the same way despite a far larger population that your average American town. Even in the small town I live in today half the people I see in the store or at the post office are unfamiliar faces. I couldn't tell you who lives here or who is just passing through on their way to or from somewhere else. It is sometimes difficult to experience any real sense of community at all anymore as we rush around from one point to the next at a speed that exceeds the limit for any kind of meaningful interaction.
We live in an age of technological wonders that morph and change and become more amazing all the time. It is a fast moving world. We are no longer restricted by wires; we can talk with each other from anywhere at any time. We don't need to write letters anymore or keep the really meaningful ones tied up in ribbon or saved in boxes so that we can take them out and read them throughout our lives. We don't have to talk with each other at all if we don't want to, we can just send each other a few acronyms on our phones. We can jump in our cars and go places on a whim or stay in our houses and watch our 300 channels or log into the world on our computers.
Technology has given us the ability to communicate with each other at any time and in many ways with an immediacy of real time that is amazing. Yet, oddly, it is also said that the quality of communication between people and within communities is diminishing exponentially. It is said that we have more leisure time now than we have ever had in human history, and I suppose that is nice for us, but I can't help thinking that back when people worked harder and longer and had far less time for playing and entertainment, they just might have known how to use it better.
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