The New Tradition I Embraced This Halloween

Dena Landon

By Dena Landon | Oct 31st, 2021

Trick or treat!

Last night was Halloween. My son wore a costume from his favorite show – Ningajo – but the mask didn’t stay on long. We’d joined another single mom, since they weren’t doing anything at our new apartment building. Up and down the blocks around her house we wandered, keeping an eye on her cat and my ninja while walking her dog.

While we walked, we chatted about favorite costumes of years past, traditions and parties. The holiday season is here, and with it the grief of celebrating holidays without my mother. Halloween, however, isn’t one of them.

It’s one of the few pagan holidays that the Christians didn’t manage to co-op, so in my strictly religious household, there was no trick or treating. I don’t have any pictures of myself as a plump baby dressed up as a pumpkin. There’s only one time that I can remember celebrating the holiday.

It was the winter before my mom left my dad and our next door neighbor had invited me to go trick or treating. I was twelve, old enough to steal a dress and a hat from my mom’s closet, grab a sequined mask from the dress-up box, and sneak out. It rained that night, and I returned home a soggy, dripping mess.

My mom took one look at me and knew what I’d done. She didn’t yell at me over the utterly ruined hat and dress. Instead, she hustled me upstairs and changed me out of the wet “costume” before my dad could see.

Women sometimes practice small rebellions in abusive relationships. The lipstick that you put on in the car after leaving the house because he said it was “too bright.” The money hidden away for a small treat. The music that you crank up too loud when he’s not home and dance around the house, remembering a freer time. Or hiding your pre-teen daughter’s transgressions from a harsh man.

Now, I buy clearance Halloween decorations at Target the day-after and pull them out next year. Gleefully stock up on candy and debate costumes with my son. But the holiday has a deeper meaning for me, too.

Samhain is the night of the dead. The veil between the worlds is thin and spirits walk among us. People originally dressed up in costumes to confuse and scare away spirits, but witches invited them in. With an open door, even if just leads to my balcony, white candles and plates full of their favorite foods, pagans sup with their dead on All Hallow’s Eve.

“We carry our loved ones in our memories, in our DNA, and for some of us, we sup with them one night a year.”

It’s comforting for me to put my son in bed and sit down with my grandmother and mother’s spirits. To tell them about the difficult year, the awful post-divorce mess I’ve found myself in, the nastiness of men who won’t let you live your life in peace. I know that they can relate, and while it may just be my imagination I feel their comfort. We carry our loved ones in our memories, in our DNA, and for some of us, we sup with them one night a year.

Post-divorce, you can start new holiday traditions in the same way that I’ve embraced Halloween. I’ve lost a lot in my life; my mother, grandmother and grandfather all before the age of thirty-three, a marriage, dreams of living in a place I love, and more. Traditions are meant to bring you comfort and a sense of belonging. Spirits may or may not exist, but my family’s love for me was definitely real.

I know I’m not alone in needing comfort, and if you’re struggling this holiday season I’d urge you to lean on tradition and loved ones to get through it. Or light a candle and set out a plate of their favorite cookies to honor their memory and call on their strength. It can’t hurt, and it just might bring you peace.

Dena Landon

Dena Landon

Dena Landon's bylines have appeared in The Washington Post, Good Housekeeping, Salon and more. The proud mom of a boy, she specializes in parenting and divorce.


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