Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halloween à la Suisse

Halloween is not officially celebrated in Switzerland, though it's presence has certainly become more evident over the past five years. The grocery stores now carry a limited selection of spooky costumes and the odd family will throw a party. Door-to-door grovelling for sweets has not yet reached our end of the pasture, but it's only a matter of time. As much as one might object to the sinister undertones of this the spookiest of holidays, its kid appeal is hard to beat.

A long-standing tradition in our household is to listen to Saint-Saëns's Danse Macabre on the days leading up to the big night. I was thirteen years old when I performed Danse Macabre with my town's youth symphony and the piece has stuck with me ever since. It opens to the sound of a single violin plucking the stroke of twelve. It's midnight on Halloween. Death appears with his fiddle and calls forth the dead from their graves to dance. One by one, they rise from their earthly beds, old and young, rich and poor, to dance together as equals in the darkness. Bones rattle as wind whips through the trees, sending leaves swirling, until, suddenly, there is the faintest hint of light. Death is first sorrowful, then defiant, leading the dead into another frenzied burst of dance. Only when the cock crows, signaling the break of dawn, do the dead finally scury back to their tombs, bringing the festivities to a close for yet another year.

Click below if you wish to give it a listen:

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