You WILL Be Assimilated

PumpkinBack when I worked in the software industry, the gigantic Microsoft corporation was sometimes accused of having a policy of subverting software standards. The US Department of Justice found that the policy was referred to internally at Microsoft as “embrace, extend and extinguish”: first to adopt the standard for Microsoft products, but then to add features which were only Microsoft-compatible, which if widely-adopted rended the existence of a standard moot, since only the Microsoft products would work with each other.

(As an example, the latest release of Excel is supposed to be able to save files in Open Document Format, theoretically allowing them to be exchanged with other spreadsheet software. Except Microsoft ODF files aren’t the same as everybody else’s, and it doesn’t work.)

“Embrace, extend and extinguish” was also the long-time strategy of another global megacorporation, the Christian church. Major folk festivals were adopted and Christianised because they were too much a part of life to erase. The result is a rich mix of pagan traditions incorporated into nominally Christian festivals. The Norse yule tree and pagan feasting, gift-giving and home decoration at Christmas; fertility symbols at Easter; and of course, Samhain became Hallowe’en.

In about 740 Pope Gregory III moved the festival of All Hallows from 13th May to 1st November. The earlier date had been a pagan Roman festival associated with exorcising and placating the evil dead, but with that pagan association successfully “extinguished”, Gregory took the opportunity to take on the similar traditional practices in Northern and Western Europe. In Ireland, although nominally Christian for centuries, the boundary between the bright half and the dark half of the year, Samhain, was the biggest annual festival and had almost no Christian aspects.

For a few hundred years, up to relatively modern times, All Hallows and Hallowe’en became totally Christian festivals, with the origins of pagan elements forgotten. Then business got in on the act, eventually replacing both pagan and Christian symbols with plastic. A lot of the modern paraphanalia associationed with Hallowe’en is actually derived from classic horror movies rather than anything traditional or mythological, but I don’t mind. People still need a good party to distract them from the coming darkness, and as far as I’m concerned, the more secular the better.

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