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Thursday, February 22, 2024

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Nathaniel Hall: The Shock Of Your Life

Dressing up for Halloween might be fun, but writer and actor Nathaniel Hall digs deep into something that can be really scary – letting go

I don’t celebrate Halloween and I hate pumpkin spice lattes. There, I said it. OK, that’s not entirely true. I have been known to attend Halloween parties, and when I do, I slay it. But I’m definitely not a Halloween gay.

Growing up, we weren’t allowed to go trick or treating, and I didn’t feel like I was missing out. Halloween celebrations just always seemed like this quirky thing people in American films did. And the Americanisation of British culture probably climaxes when Pumpkin Spice LatteTM season hits. The marking of the seasons via corporate drink releases might be seen as peak ‘basic’ gay, but in a way, I do get it. The only constant in life is change, and we humans have marked these moments in one way or another for millennia.

 Halloween is the secular child of the Christian All Hallows’ (Saints’) Eve. This is the night before All Hallows’ Day, which marks the start of Allhallowtide, a period for remembering the dead (whether that be saints, martyrs or the departed). Many of the traditions of Halloween reach back further, influenced by Celtic and Gaelic festivals celebrated at this time of year, which are believed to have pagan roots. Cultures across the world have similar festivals for their dead: Obon in Japan, Chuseok in Korea, Hungry Ghost Festival in East Asian counties, Pitru Paksha in India, and Día de los Muertos in Mexico. 

The rituals and spectacle of these festivals fascinate me, and perhaps that’s why the more commercial offering of the Anglo-American Halloween leaves me a bit cold and feel like they lack any real connection to the past – nothing says honouring the ancestors like an alcopop-drinking, slut-dropping zombie.

All this aside, autumn is still my favourite season. I love seeing the trees slowly change colour and then lose their leaves. I love the gentle reminder it brings that change is part of life, that death is part of life. Autumn reminds me that letting go is necessary for growth and new life that comes in spring. As the dancefloor banger goes, ‘time marches on never-ending.’ Autumn reminds me to embrace change and not fight it.

As I get older, maybe I’m craving a deeper spiritual connection with my ancestors that goes beyond watching a few scary movies and getting wasted dressed in, and surrounded by, straight-to-landfill tat. But then some of my deepest spiritual moments have taken place on dancefloors and at house parties, so I still value the act of coming together to celebrate just for the sake of it. Ok, so the drugs probably helped, but the point is there isn’t a right or a wrong way to mark the passing of the seasons, but I increasingly feel like the party shouldn’t get in the way of what’s really important.

The scariest thing in life is letting go. Of a loved one. Of your younger self. Of a relationship that no longer supports or nourishes you. And I think the fear of letting go is compounded for LGBTQ+ people. Where do we go when the party ends, when our bodies are no longer ‘desirable’ on a scene that exonerates the young and fit and healthy? Who will look after us in the future if we don’t have children or our family networks have disowned us?

As the leaves begin to fall this year, I encourage you to take a walk in nature and take a moment to think about what you’re letting go of as this year comes to a close. And when you look back at your own life, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised just how magically resilient you are.

At this time of year, I always think of one of my all-time favourite quotes. It was penned by C.S Lewis (of Chronicles of Narnia fame). He said: ‘Isn’t it funny how day to day, nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different?’ Time really does march on never-ending, so this Halloween, embrace the scariness of letting go and make space for the new growth that comes in spring.

nathanieljhall.co.uk / @nathanieljhall

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