Starting COP26 on Halloween, a festival for the dead doesn't give much hope

It's Halloween, a tradition that I didn't know as a child growing up in the Netherlands. Instead, I always associate it with North America, where families change their suburbian front yards into haunted graveyards, some complete with bloody body parts, gravestones, and lots of spider webs.

Traditions can alienate you if you don't feel part of it. So in my efforts to blend in with the Canadians, I searched the internet to explain this phenomenon and found that we have to go back into history as I so often do in this newsletter.

There was not much of Halloween celebration in colonial New England, where rigid Protestant beliefs prevented frivolously celebrating, especially of traditions with some doubtful pre-Christian fingerprints all over it. However, in Maryland and the southern colonies was more appetite for a bit of fun, and it was there that Halloween was rooted in the American lifestyle.

But those New Englanders had a point. About 2000 years ago, a kick-off date for many traditions we still uphold, the Celts celebrated their new year on November 1. They believed that the boundary between the living and the dead worlds became blurred on the night of October 31, just before the new year.

Naturally, you don't want to miss a return to earth of the ghosts of the dead, so the Celts in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man celebrated the Samhain festival, which is pronounced as sow-in, a festival for the dead. The tradition has Celtic pagan origins, and some Neolithic passage tombs in Ireland are aligned with the sunrise at the time of Samhain.

In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints. Soon, All Saints Day incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. Today, it's widely believed that the church was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, church-sanctioned holiday. The evening before All Saints Day was known as All Hallows Eve and later Halloween.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine strengthened the Halloween tradition in North America. But, as is the case with many American traditions, it has also become a celebration of consumerism. A quarter of all the candy sold annually in the U.S. is purchased for Halloween. A more recent business opportunity for Halloween is selling costumes to Americans for their dogs and cats. The $490 million market for pet costumes has doubled in just ten years. It resulted in one of the funniest video clips I recently saw; if you missed it, have a look at this tweet.

This dog-spider is a nice bridge to animals and Halloween, and I have another one for you. This scary creature seems to have dressed up for Halloween. It lives in Ecuador and is known as a "Jason's mask Spider." It may look like a scary spider, but this cutie is harmless and friendly. Nor is it a spider, at least that's what I think, but I couldn't find more information about this Halloween celebrating creature. I guess that experts (anyone reading this? help me please) would classify this spider among the Opiliones, a distinct order that is not closely related to spiders.

Opiliones can be distinguished from long-legged spiders by a single pair of eyes in the middle of the cephalothorax, the fused body part of the head and thorax. Spiders have three to four pairs of eyes, usually around the margins of the cephalothorax.

The most scary animal

Talking about scary Halloween animals, the winner of the most frightening of all animals is us. We, humans, have sent our leaders to Glasgow on Halloween to decide about the future living conditions on our planet. All over the world, we have different systems in place to determine who our leaders are. Some leaders reached their powerful positions by violently throwing over the previous government. Others got there through free and fair elections. As you can imagine, there are many varieties, including creative mixes of the coup d'etat and election scenarios.

But whatever their differences, these leaders are sharing this one small beautiful planet with everyone else. And their stay on the earth is short; if you summarize the earth's history into one year, each of these leaders is just present for only half a second. That sounds less irrelevant than it is because, for once, they have the chance to finally achieve the greatness that they all dream about in the next two weeks.


At COP26, they can take decisions that will impact the conditions for life on this planet. That includes the future for their own children and grandchildren and all their countries' citizens and future inhabitants.

Imagine what an opportunity they have to do something positive with that power; they can cooperate with all countries in the world to preserve this planet as one that we proudly pass on to the next generations.

Some day historians will praise these leaders for their wisdom and strength. They will write that finally, the world leaders overcame their differences and united to work together for a better future for all. They recreated the world into one that is more fair, equal, and happy, one where innovation, education, solidarity, compassion, and science are respected, a world where there is no room for bullying and abuse of the weaker ones.

I wish this were more than a wish.

We have the knowledge, finances, and technology to save the planet; it now comes down to brave visionary leaders. Although you may have missed inspiration in Rome, I can only hope for more leadership and a recognition of the urgency and the seriousness of the climate crisis in Glasgow, simply because I can't live without hope.

So, with that, I have bridged Halloween to COP26, which you will, of course, read more about in this newsletter.

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