Why Halloween should scare us
Published: Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 31, 2012 20:10
When I was little, I was stuck between two opposing viewpoints on Halloween. My Dad believed that Halloween was supposed to be a fun holiday, so I dressed up as fun things: knights, baseball heroes; my earliest recollection of Halloween was as a Lego brick with red solo cups for studs. On the other hand, my Mom believed Halloween was “of Satan.” With my Dad, it was always a lot of fun to see other neighborhood parents and kids out having fun, and to get home and count the spoils from a plastic pumpkin pail. With Mom, ours was the only house on the street that had that turned off the porch lights.
Now that I’m older and can think for myself, I have a greater appreciation for the fun side of Halloween. I can’t wait to take my own children to houses where they can collect free candy from neighbors and strangers and then watch some classic Halloween movies (“Hocus Pocus,” “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”) before they have a complete sugar crash in preparation of school the next day.
But until then, I’m having a great time appreciating the dark side that is the origin of the holiday. Just to give you a brief history lesson: Samhain (pronounced sa-wen) is an ancient Celtic festival that celebrating the coming of darkness. It represents the border between the end of autumn harvest and the beginning of winter hardships. When Christianity came to the Celtic fringe, a lot of the old customs were kept (Jack-o-Lanterns were originally carved from turnips) but now had a Christian inflection. It was still a “day of the dead” in the sense that the border between autumn and winter was also the time when the border between Living and Dead was it’s thinnest. Except Christians saw this as a day when Demons and Ghosts came to walk the earth. Wearing masks during Samhain was a way to ward off curses from these paranormal entities until November 1 rolled around with All Hallow’s Day (hence October 31 is All Hallow’s Eve).
What Halloween is truly about to me, after knowing all of this, is fear. It makes perfect sense. The Ancient Celts and Early Christians alike believed (or knew…) that today was the day that the boundary between the living and dead was at its thinnest, and if we weren’t careful, it’d be oh so easy to cross over to the wrong side. After all, the dead were walking around here…
That said, fear isn’t a bad thing. It’s our bodies’ natural reaction to things we should stay away from. Fear tells us that bears, tigers, sharp objects, getting to close to fires and strange creatures are things we should stay away from. Fear by itself, however, is a bad thing. Without proper coping mechanisms, fear becomes panic. That’s exactly what Halloween is, a yearly ritual where we learn to cope with all the things that drive us up a wall.
The Celts and Christians were afraid of being cursed by apparitions, but never fear. We have a way to trick them into not realizing we’re not one of them. Oh you’re a Vampire here to suck my blood? Well, I’m one of you! You get the point.
As we get older, our fears become more sophisticated and our methods more so. We see movies that reflect those fears and continue to obsess over them. The immortal vampire symbolizes our fear of aging (as well as the fear of losing our virginity, see all that blood). The mindless zombie horde is symbolic of our fear of losing our humanity and becoming one of the herd. The spooky specter is symbolic of the sins of our ancestors coming back to haunt us. The red-faced demon and devil is (alternately) a symbol of our inability to control natural events, or our own greed and insatiable desire.
So with that knowledge, try popping in a few scary movies (“Paranormal Activity,” “The Thing” and “Inside” are three of the scariest I know) and remember that what started Samhain was our fear of the dark. When the sun starts to go away, and the days get shorter, it’s hard to see, and hard to tell just exactly what’s out there.
Is that a mountain lion out there? Or is it something else? The worst ghosts are always in our heads… but that doesn’t mean they’re not real.