Thursday, October 30, 2008

I Love Halloween

For years and years I had an October tradition: I would read Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes to get in the spirit of Halloween. It's not really a story about the holiday, so much as it is a song of October. It captures the fel of the autumn leaves under your feet and the eerie lengthening of night. But after a 10 or so years, I could recite it page by page and I had to take a few years off. I guess you could say that longing for more books about the October transformation of the world prompted me to write my own book about it.

Of course it's not just about the reading. The adoption of a frightening personality and the subsequent acquisition of confections was a big part of it, too.

When we were kids, Trick-or-Treating was something to think about all year long. As soon as our doors closed shut for the night and my brother and I tore off our sweaty rubber masks, we would start talking about what we were going to be next year. In college, my roommate and I turned pumpkin carving into an elaborate (and expensive) artform.

The year before our first child was born, my wife and I spent a good $200 on costuming and make-up to make the best costumes we ever had in our lives to wear while we handed out candy. And now that we do have kids, everything has come full circle and Trick or Treating is back in vogue.

But it was really the year that we dressed up as vampires that I first noticed the strong opposition some people had against Halloween. Our next-door neighbors (actually, the people who shared our duplex) saw us dressed as we were and refused to speak to us for months. I started noticing all the Trick or Treat "alternatives" being offered at churches and schools. And while my elementary school had a Halloween costume parade through the neighborhood when I was younger, I learned that they obliterated the word "Halloween" and told kids to dress as their "favorite character from literature" without offering any reason why on October 31st.

I can't stand the constant reminders that you need to be "safe." In my neighborhood, kids go out and play every night--at least this night they have their parents around and everyone should be looking out for them. And Snopes has a good article speaking to why you dont' have too much to be afraid of your Halloween candy.

I guess this isn't new. My parents, I'm sure, could tell stories about opposition in their times. Heck, there was opposition thousands of years ago! But I guess that's kind of comforting; it's been around forever and it's not going anywhere.

Being very interested in the holiday, I've spend a bit of time researching its roots. It's fascinating to see how a ceremony of death, harvest, endings and beginnings can run through so many cultures in so many different ways. And while its roots are dark, creepy, and revolve around death, I just can't find anything evil about it.

Even in its most roucus forms the holiday really perpetuates the goodness of our kind. The fact that we dress as demons and monsters isn't a form of devil worship so much as it is a testiment to free will: we show the world we can act however we want, be murderers, pirates, beasts, but that we choose not to (at least 364 days of the year). For those reasons, I really support not the dawning of commercial characters or role-playing as firemen and princesses, but the adoption of that which morbidly fascinates us. At least that's much more in the spirit of things.

We went to a pumpkin patch this past weekend that had a cornfield maze and a jack-o-lantern walk during the night time. My daughters were a bit scared of those elements, but I am content to let them be scared. I tell them that being scared at Halloween is fun: we toy with the ideas of fright and recognize how vacant it is most days of our lives.

But then again, they're both being princesses for Halloween.

While our current version may be much more commercial than I'd like it to be, the fact that it does make money for the big-wigs may at least serve the purpose of keeping it around and popular in the modern age. There are many sects of Paganism that still treat the date as New Years: a time to banish what didn't like about the past year, letting them drop away from your life like leaves, and adopt new ideas for the rebirth. And much as Easter still contains elements of Paganism that are really hard to explian relating to our modern interpretations, the commercial elements perpetuate them, for better or for worse.

I find it easy to embrace many sides of the holiday. In a culture where we hide death and fear away as best we can, it's a time when we can bridge conversations with our families about them. And though we spent way too much money on costumes, pumpkins, and candy, we can thank those elements for keeping old traditions in the mainstream.

Whatever your family's Halloween traditions, I hope you all have a good one!

1 comment:

octavialuna said...

Just wanted to say that i really enjoyed reading this and looking at your costume pictures. Hope you had a great Halloween!
amy