Halloween is the only holiday I really celebrate, in a spiritual sense. My family went to Plymouth for Thanksgiving once, where we ate a very cold meal amongst strangers in a high school gym. Christmas is a time for silently angry, overheated car trips to the mall, at least where I come from. Independence Day is self-serving patriotic hoopla. Everything else is just a day off from school. Needless to say, I don’t come from a particularly religious family.
But Halloween is something I can believe in, celebrate, ritualize, reflect upon. One reason is that there is no “official” way to celebrate, after you get past trick-or-treating age. It is religious but not Christian, being a half-hearted attempt to adapt to the pagan calendar that most people were unwilling to give up when the Roman empire fell. The source is actually a Gaelic fire ceremony called Saman wherein the Druids would burn people in wicker cages — kind of a life-size jack o’ lantern. As this practice is not really socially acceptable nowadays, the mood remains but not the practice.
While most people choose to make Halloween a secular holiday, I choose to celebrate it religiously, as I think most do whether they know it or not. Halloween is a time when evil is recognized, and in the Disney-fied society we live, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. Some might complain that even Halloween is being homogenized to licensed plastic costumes, but I know there are still kids out there who dress up as vampires or werewolves, immerse themselves in the popular and traditional myths, and perhaps allow a little of the natural darkness to envelop them. Halloween is a celebration of death, and we could all stand to be reminded of our own mortality. Moreover, we need to touch the darkness every once in a while, look at it and recognize it in ourselves.
Halloween is a time when the world can speak. We recognize myths, the unknown, and allow them to walk among us. But not to know them; to give faces to angels or devils is unconscionable. We can recognize the unknown without naming it, letting the knowledge register on the back of our brains without bringing it to full consciousness. The world seems to play tricks on me this time of year, and I shut up and allow it to. Streets rearrange themselves, snow falls on a warm and sunny day, a howl suddenly comes from everywhere at once and just as suddenly dies down. It’s as if the world is saying, “Think you know what I can do? Hah!” Nothing quite compares to the feeling that you understand something you don’t know.
So celebrate as you will this October 31st: go trick-or-treating, or go to a party and get drunk. But whatever you do, wherever you are, stop for a second. Remove yourself from the situation and look around at the darkness. Then look inside yourself to see it reflected. That is what Halloween is for.
Michael Barthel is a first-year.
Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 126, Number 7, October 31, 1997
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