My earliest memory of Halloween only exists in fragmentary snapshots: a duct-tape knife protruding from my brother’s back, fake blood running down an old shirt; hay bales, and a faintly lit corner where a woman read stories out load; my costume – Dennis the Menace, a character I was only vaguely aware of: three dots on each cheek, overalls, and an artificial cow-lick spiked up on the back of my head. I was 4 or maybe 5, and my parents thought I was adorable.
Halloween in my mind is the flickering orange light of a candle fluttering out from holes in a ceramic ghost, casting unsteady bats and crescent moons out into the darkened room with my mom and I; it’s the color of dead leaves and pumpkins, and the solitary caw of a crow echoing against bare branches and the cold October sky; it’s pumpkin seeds and pumpkin guts, scooped and stacked on outdated newsprint with the large metal serving spoon we kept in a drawer with the other tableware; it’s trick-or-treating at the mall, “Halloweentown” on the Disney Channel, a harvest party at a friend’s church.
It’s one of my favorite holidays.
Of course, it doesn’t come close to Christmas, king of the American pantheon. Nothing can come close to that particular holiday’s achievements, although that’s for another blog post. Halloween, though, has its charms. For one, it’s the only fun holiday we have: Thanksgiving and Christmas, while fun, are still tinged with sobriety: even if you aren’t religious, you’re still encouraged to take time to be thankful for what you have, to appreciate your family and loved ones, and to be a kinder and better person over all. Despite the growing materialism of the big holidays, they still have some heart.
Halloween has no heart, and that’s why it’s so fun. Any deeper meaning it once had has been long lost to the mists of time and geography, leaving only a celebration of mock-fear and an excuse for kids to eat candy and adults to drink liquor. Costumes, of course, play an integral role in Halloween, creating a sense of the carnivalesque (to slightly inaccurately borrow a term from literary criticism) – that is, it turns things upside down. People can pretend to be who they want to be, at least for a night. Maybe that’s what Halloween is all about: pretending things are real. Nobody really believes in monsters, but for one night a year, we embrace that fear of the “things that go bump in the night,” and we have fun with it.