The armchair anthropologists among us love at this time of the year to speak of the thematic universality of those macabre thoughts we allow out of the dark recesses to play. Such celebrations cut across the continents, even creating consternation in the Castro.
Sure, most of us know it as Halloween, short for All Hallows’ Eve, the name Christians gave the Celtic festival of Samhain in an effort to civilize it. In Latin America, primarily Mexico, people celebrate a coincident tradition, Los Dias de los Muertos, or “the Days of the Dead,” when ancestral spirits supposedly return to walk the earth.
Likewise, Chung Yeung, the Double Ninth Festival, arrives at this season at roughly the time of the Moon Festival. Tradition-minded Chinese families burn paper money and lay out fresh flowers and foods to be enjoyed by the similarly returning departed. Some San Franciscans participated in Sunday’s ceremony at Cypress Lawn cemetery.
It’s a healthy thing, this cultivation of the grotesque. Remembrances of the past contribute to human wisdom incalculably. They can guide the decisions we make corporately, as the writer G. K. Chesterton taught us when he introduced the phrase, “the democracy of the dead.” At this hour, even as on Memorial Day, it is worth pondering how those might vote who sacrificed themselves so that we might survive earlier monsters — real, tyrannical monsters, not the drugstore-garbed ones.
Some citizens are horrified by what Halloween has wrought. We do not share in the opposition to revelry, so long as that revelry can be contained to an appreciation of history’s darker lessons. But unfortunately — mindful of those thugs who would turn the Castro’s annual festival to violence — it has become necessary to clamp down.
Supervisor Bevan Dufty’s warning bears repeating: “This is a year that I am asking people to make a plan if you want to come and enjoy the Halloween street festival. Come earlier, and then make a plan to go to a club or a bar … If you come from outside of San Francisco, I think it’s probably not a wise decision.”
It’s sad that The City has come to this pass, but Dufty has it exactly right. Order must prevail if the festival is ever to come back in a manner that can be enjoyed by the widest community. Huntington Beach not long ago went through a similar ordeal, as Fourth of July rioters came up against blunt, perhaps excessive, police force.
In recent years, peace has returned to the Southern California playground. It can happen here as well. If the ancestors are smiling, we’ll not need massive force. That will depend on whether the celebrants can police themselves, as participants in the eternal democracy.