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Catalyst Notes

I hate Hallowe'en. I hate Bonfire Night. And don't event get me started on Christmas.

I hate Halloween, I hate Bonfire Night (and don’t even get me started on Christmas).

I hate the pressure to conform, the pressure to do things a certain way, the pressure on my kids to fit in to a mould.

I hate that these days are trailed for weeks in shops and if we want to participate in the prescribed right way, this means buying extra stuff.

It’s sweets and food and costumes and decorations and gifts and packaging.

This stuff is not stuff that we need.

This stuff is likely made in a sweatshop somewhere where people probably weren’t paid enough or treated well.

This stuff increases our intake of sugar and processed foods and normalises over-eating and our addiction to the sweet stuff.

This stuff increases our production and use of non-renewable resources like plastic and creates mountains of waste, dumped into landfill.

We overdose on sugar. We overdose on plastic. We overdose.



I love Bonfire Night. I love Christmas (still not really loving Hallowe’en)

I love to party and celebrate.

I love having people round. I love dressing up. I LOVE playing games. I love preparing and eating yummy food.

I love that feeling when the house is trashed, coz you’ve had such a great time, and then you clear it up and all is calm again.

I love that it’s (usually in the UK) cold and (usually in the UK) wet, and these events signal the arrival of boots and tights and beanie hats.

 I love the way these festivals connect us and help us feel part of something bigger.


I hate and I love.

These are just cultural events, that are shaped by humans, that commemorate things that we may or may not relate to, or believe in.

I hate and I love.

Soooooo…… what’s that about?

For me, 3 things.

Firstly this is about holding tensions and ambivalences within ourselves. How do I live with the paradoxes, how do I connect with what is actually most important to me, how do I somehow align and be whole.

Secondly this is also about how we attach meaning to things. How do I interpret this cultural event and make meaning from it and around it.

Thirdly it’s also about choice. What do I choose to be important to me and my family. How do I choose to engage with what’s going on around me in my specific cultural context.


We can choose to say ‘well I’m just going with it…. its just a chance for a party/ dress up/ eat sweets ….’

Or we can dig a bit deeper and say what is this culturally shaped and conditioned festival actually about, and how do I want to be part of it, if I want to be part of it at all.

Do I need to ‘buy in’ to the full meaning that is prescribed by my wider society. (And of course there are myriad ways and myriad meanings.)

I’ve lived and worked in many different countries and cultures over my life. I’ve been embraced into various cultural festivals – Divali, Eid al-Fitr, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Remembrance Day, Yum Kippur, St Patrick’s Day…. I’ve learned to get curious and ask questions – what do these mean, what are they about, what are we celebrating, what are the symbols, who are the heros (and where are the heroines? Let’s tell her story as well as his story). And asking the people that I’m with at the time - what does this mean for you – what sense do you make of it – what is the connection for your life? (which is where the collective story gets specific and of course is as unique and individual as each human being.) The answers here are fascinating - so much rich narrative and story coming out of these questions.

The opportunity and privilege I’ve experienced to have these kinds of conversations with people in Australia/ US/ UK as well as Sweden/ Iceland/ India/ South Africa/ Afghanistan showed me something else – there are specific stories, there are collective stories, there are wider cultural stories, (my belief is there is also a big story that all these stories are connected into, but that’s for another day).

We shape our stories according to our own culture and context – so this is adaptable and flexible and fluid – for me coming from the UK, celebrating Christmas in Australia is markedly different but still recognisable as Christmas, celebrating Christmas in India has a totally different flavour.

This tells me that we can reshape our stories. We can create the meaning that we want to create.

And now that I’m living in the UK, and inside my own white-centred, euro-centric, British, middle-class culture, I could just flow with ‘this is how we do things around here’ OR I can get creative and consider how I can reclaim these festivals, to redeem them in some way, to reshape them to fit and align with my own values, to connect them to the bigger story.

Here are some questions I can ask myself:

·       what does this festival mean to me, to my community, what is important about it, what is the bigger story?

·       what do I really want to celebrate here?

·       what is aligned with my values and what I treasure in my life?

·       what is the legacy of meaning and memory I want to create with my kids and in my wider community?

·       how can we co-create this meaning together?


This is hard – counter cultural – we’ll get push back.

(When I offer my kids a light party instead of trick or treating at Hallowe’en, they initially complain.

When I suggest to my family that we do ‘1 person 1 present’ at Christmas, rather than everyone buying for everyone, they initially complain.

We don’t like change – we like things to be the way we expect them to be.

And then often we find we enter the transition, try out the new thing, and actually it’s ok, good and fun even, and hey presto we’ve created a new family tradition.)


So it’s hard. AND this work is fun and creative and conscious and alive.


And now over to you.

Do you love and/or hate your cultural festivals and traditions? Why?

How might you recreate/ reclaim these festivals and traditions so that they more truly reflect the values and stories that are important to you in your life?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!


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I write weekly on a mix of topics like leadership, spirituality, change, resilience and wellbeing, navigating and shifting the systems we're in as women and my journey with intersectional feminism. I also share awesome free tips, research and resources that I don't share anywhere else! www.katycatalyst.com/signup