Lessons From the Dark Side

A Letter From the Editor

Here Be Monsters

Dear Marshmallow Peeps,

Having just cleared Halloween, I’ve been thinking a lot about monsters. Perhaps I am feeling the after effects of the monster mash or perhaps I am feeling a bit grouchy and anxious getting back to my daily routine, staring at the official countdown to the holidays. I’m not sure. I look at the seasonal cast of pop culture and traditional characters that appear every year AFTER our big monster holiday; characters such as the Grinch, Ebeneezer Scrooge, Krampus, Namahage, Mari Lwyd, Ravana, but to name a few; and it seems, globally-speaking, this time of year has a dark side (it’s not just me feeling grumpy). This common cultural thread could be worth exploring. Why do they appear year after year and what purposes do they serve?

Traditionally speaking, monsters represent our own inner darkness: our fears, frustrations, isolation, anger, sadness. Maybe during this time of year when pressures are high and time is fleeting, we take solace in these dark characters to express feelings that run counter current to the societally expected feelings of the holidays (light, joy, gratitude, etc). Maybe there is something to be learned from these sometimes scary “Debbie Downer” personalities that could help see us through the end of the year tasks and traditions.

Scared Straight

One category of these seasonal monsters are those meant to keep others in line, particularly children. Krampus, in one form or another has been a tool for European parents to keep their children on their best behavior during November and December by threatening to beat the naughty kids and take the really bad ones down to the underworld where he lives (Krampus is said to be the son of the Norse god, Hel ). He literally serves as the answer to “or else” in order to scare children straight. I personally do not promote fear as a parenting tool for controlling children (it took my cousin and I years to not be afraid of a made up monster my aunt used to get us to bed on time and make sure that we didn’t come out of our rooms). But, on the positive side of having Krampus and other monsters like Krampus in our collective imagination, he does remind us that our actions have consequences and there needs to be balance between the light and dark. You could say that Krampus is good motivation for children (and adults) to work on their self-regulation techniques!

Good ol’ misanthropic Ebeneezer Scrooge also falls into this category. Poor Ebeneezer doesn’t even get to hide his lack of humanity under a monsters’ guise. He is just an awful human! He teaches us our actions have consequences, we choose the relationship we have with the outside world as well as how we define ourselves within it. It is never too late to redefine those relationships and to redeem ourselves.

The Namahage add an interesting twist how we define our relationship to our community. Traditionally, the Namahage would go from house to house in their community (usually a small village) searching for the “new” members such as young couples or children (the ones most likely to go rogue). Once found, they order the newcomers to live within the established expectations of the community, and in that way, the Namahage are menacing guardians of tradition. Nowadays, they are seen as harbingers of good luck for New Year, stewards of balance and harmony for their populace. They teach us to appreciate structure.

Without the Dark, there is no Light

Without these dark characters, it is hard to appreciate what you have. In essence they are a lesson in gratitude. In the Hindu tradition, Ravana and his demons are defeated by Rama, who brings back the light in the darkest days. Without the defeat of Ravana, there is no cause for celebration. After the battles, there is resilience. The message is one of hope, renewal, and appreciation. But one thing that I really have come to value as I re-experience and re-evaluate some of these characters as an adult are those that are misanthropic with a purpose. Whether it be the chaos they sow or the traditions they thwart, one of the season’s personalities I have come to appreciate the most is Dr. Seuss’s the Grinch.

Noise, Noise, Noise

He is grouchy, but for good reason. He is an outsider, he does not have much cause to celebrate. All he sees is the bother, the clutter, and chaos of the holiday season and the values it imposes on him. The Grinch is left, like many of us, overwhelmed. All the “Noise, noise, noise, noise!”

The Grinch is like a person with a low tolerance sensory profile and the Who’s celebration puts him in a sensory defensive position. Who can blame him for wanting to shut that mess down? But, after being unsuccessful in his attempt to rob the Who’s of their holiday, he changes perspective. He is able to see, not just from his own view point, but from those of his neighbors and in doing so, the actual noise of the season no longer bothers him. Because of his ability to shift perspective, he opens himself up to experience the season anew. In turn, the Who’s accept someone who is outside of their small community, one whose thoughts and opinions are different than their own. They embrace diversity in the end. Or the Grinch passes as a Who at the Who table and they are just making an exception, but I’m trying to be optimistic here.

Looking at the big picture, it’s really the combination of the seasonal monsters’ lessons that present me with a strategy to get through the challenges of the season. If I cut through all the noise, all the to-dos, the obligations and the expectations, I can perhaps find a quiet space to ground myself in the qualities that I value in my friends and family; generosity, diversity, humor, resilience, kindness, and acceptance. I hope you too find what grounds you during the holiday season and into the new year.

Wishing you the warmest, best, and brightest holiday season from our family to yours.

In gratitude,

Anouck and Maki

 

In honor of Caroll Spinney, the newly retired puppeteer of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, check out his book, which highlights the importance of diverse voices, like Oscar’s voice of dissent in a community.

 

 

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