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"A Hollow Halloween" mind matters
October 31, 2002

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I have to be honest. I hate Halloween.

Itís not a sense of mild dislike that I feel, but something stronger and down to the core. Although I recognize that there are many people who enjoy the holiday, I simply do not. October 31 is one of those days I try to avoid.

No one particular reason influences my feelings more than any other, but itís perhaps the emphasis on being scared that first comes to mind. Sometimes the fear is intended as humor, such as wearing a scary mask into a public place. Other times the scare is its own entertainment, like watching a horror movie or wandering through a haunted house. Still other times the fear is genuine, as experienced through criminal acts of vandalism or sabotage. This is not how holidays should be celebrated.

At its core, All Hallows Eve is fundamentally about turning our attention and energies to those who have passed from life. This is valuable, especially for a culture in which we work so hard not to dwell on our own mortality. Respect for our ancestors is healthy. Taking time to pay homage to those who have died is underrated. If Halloween were a holiday dedicated to respect and awareness, I wouldnít complain. In fact, Iíd probably have more holiday spirit than average.

There are elements of Halloween that take these sentiments not just more seriously, but more literally. Communing with the dead through ritual is potentially a spiritual act, though some of those rituals are controversial. Halloween marks the moment in the year at which the worlds of the living and of the deceased pass close enough together that communication and perhaps even translocation across the boundary between them grows more possible. I prefer to think of this boundary as emotional or personal, a symbol to bring us closer to the recognition that while some people are no longer with us, their spirits and our memories of those people continue through us.

So why do we celebrate fear? Why do we disguise ourselves behind the masks and costumes of mythological, evil creatures? And why does Halloween inspire so much vandalism: thrown eggs and wasted toilet paper, bonfires and spray paint?

The fear and abuse are enough to make me wary, and to make Halloween distasteful, but it runs deeper. The candy and the trick-or-treating confuses me as well. Having children march around in costumes can be a delightful community activity, but the atmosphere of the holiday can lend these behaviors a sinister spin. Children beg and act gluttonously. There are children who selfishly wander the houses on October 30, the night before, for extra treats.

We call this trick-or-treating, because thereís the potential for trickery. Those who choose to give out candy donít have to, of course; they can choose to be victims instead. So perhaps this isnít about begging after all, but rather blackmail. Give me enough candy and I wonít egg your house or firebomb your mailbox.

If you think Iím overdoing it, I wouldnít blame you. Gluttony and blackmail? Certainly Iím exaggerating. Perhaps I am. I suppose what bothers me most is that Halloween has so much unrealized potential for spirituality and fun. What do people think theyíre celebrating?

Costumes, candy, and fear. Thatís not good enough for me.

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Copyright 2002 Seth Maislin

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