In My Mind's I

We’re into that season that, for me, is heralded by taking a deep breath late in October that’s finally let out on Jan. 2.
When I lived up north, Halloween was the line of demarcation. Fall was glorious, with beautifully colored leaves, crisp-air days and harvest moon nights. But what lay ahead was always hovering at the edge of my consciousness; a few days before Oct. 31 I’d look at that still-benevolent sky and say to myself, “I know what’s coming.” And sure enough, it would come, often on Halloween itself, so the winter coats and scarves and hoods and boots had to come out of hiding just in time to cover the costumes that proud little kids wanted to show off while they were trick-or-treating.
Well, now I live in a gated complex with few young children, so trick-or-treating hasn’t amounted to much for me in years, and the weather makes other outdoor activities not only possible, but really different. This year, for example, I spent Halloween at the Buddhist Center of Dallas. Hard to believe that after almost 30 years here, I only recently learned that there’s a Buddhist Center of Dallas — and it’s less than a 10-minute drive from my home! (Makes me wonder how many non-Jews drive on Northaven Road, past the entrance to the JCC-Federation complex every day, and don’t even know what’s there.)
Anyway, what was happening at the Buddhist Center on Halloween was the Loy Krathong Festival, something that occurs annually on the occasion of the full moon of the 12th lunar month on the Buddhist calendar. Of course we Jews know something about lunar months, and the fact that holidays move around from year to year because of them. Same with the Buddhists. But this year’s festival coincided with a warm night and a gorgeous full moon on Halloween.
Loy means water, and krathong is a little boat. There is a large pool on the property of the Buddhist Center, with many golden koi swimming in it. On the night of this festival, people launch their own floats, made of paper in pretty colors and decorated with flowers; they center them with sticks of incense and set their fondest wishes, hopes and dreams off in them, on the water, to hoped-for fruition.
Of course the occasion is a big party: a couple of huge buffets of many Thai foods, and entertainment, Thai music played by an ensemble including both Western and Eastern instruments, vocalists and dances. The latter involved pairs of exotically costumed women: The first two, with long metallic extensions gracing their fingertips, presented movements native to northern Thailand; then they were joined by two more with fans, representing the country’s east; next, another two from the south; and the final two from the northeast (I must find out if there is really no western Thailand!), until the eight filled the outdoor stage at one end of the pool, performing their various dances at the same time, to the same music.
But after all, it was still Halloween. And in a bow to the Western world in which these Thais live, their children — many American-born — entered a massive costume contest. A quartet of trophies was awarded to the winners in four different age groups, starting with babes-in-arms (would you believe an Elvis, with sideburns!), followed by small children (a pretty-in-pink princess took that prize), “middle-aged” kids (I was seated at the same table with the winner, a girl dressed and fang-toothed as a convincing Dracula, and her family) and, finally, teens (a boy with a cleverly constructed, life-size puppet head standing high over his own was a shoo-in). And all so quiet and well-behaved!
Some strange juxtapositions, too: Four young women closed the program by performing several Hawaiian hulas; their dancing, and the moonlit poolside setting, gave the evening’s end the look and feel of a Thai luau. And there’s something a bit jarring about a saffron-robed priest bustling around the pool, firing up tiki torches and kathrong incense sticks with one of those no-match barbecue lighters.
I was standing, watching, next to a man who divulged, rather shyly, that he was there because he was Thai, but he was actually Christian, not Buddhist. So I said that I wasn’t Buddhist either (although there were many Caucasian Buddhists there), but Jewish. And together, the two of us watched our wishes and hopes and dreams float on the pool in their brightly fragile paper boats, upright, not sinking into sleep with the fishes.

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