There is, somewhere in our deepest human programming, an organic predisposition to recall at this time of the year the dead. We've held on to Summer in our hearts, reluctant to let it go, but the harvest is in, the barns full, the pig ready for slaughter for our Winter meat and all around the light is fading. This is the start of the Winter season, and with the dark comes our remembrance of our dead. All Hallows day on 1st November, All Souls day on the 2nd in our Western tradition; in Mexico the Day of the Dead, in Portugal and Brazil the Pão-por-Deus. To the Celts, it's Samhain; in Wales Calan Gaeaf, in Cornwall Allantide, on the Isle of Man Hop-tu-Naa. All over the Northern hemisphere candles will be lit, flowers left on graves and human thoughts turn to those departed of this life.
I have a theory about the global practice of small children knocking on doors and being given small edible gifts - not something that originated recently in North America, as you might imagine, but a surprisingly common practice amongst widely separated cultures. We forget that Winter was once a time of food shortage, of starvation, of the risk of death; a time when the weakest, children and the old, would be at greatest risk. What better way to remind every member of the community of an obligation to mutual aid than the symbolic 'feeding' of a juvenile stranger.
So if yet another face-painted pair of rapscallions in cheap Hallowe'en costumes cause you irritation as they knock you up for the umpteenth time, imagine instead as you hand out the small bag of sweets that you are giving a hambone and a cup of barley to emaciated starvelings, sustenance that could help see them through to Spring. In your own small way you are fighting the grip of death and celebrating the hope of life.