Christmas has nothing on the spookiest day of the year
By Greg Waldock, Staff Writer
Halloween is far and away the greatest of all our many annual celebrations. It’s weird, diverse, and in most of North America, it serves no purpose whatsoever other than being fun. It introduces images and ideas from cultures around the world, resulting in weird fusions of totally unrelated concepts, like mummies and vampires being associated together. Most importantly, I think it teaches us to not be afraid, no matter what terrible evils exist beyond our understanding or control. Halloween is a bizarre celebration, sometimes problematic, sometimes innovative, but always entertaining.
Its origins are up for debate. Loosely, it comes from harvest festivals, celebrating the end of the farming seasons with a huge feast. This tradition is celebrated by nearly every agricultural society around the world.
Halloween gets weird with its imagery and themes. As you can imagine, most harvest festivals aren’t so obsessed with death. The classic mainstream Halloween iconography is all about skeletons, ghosts, dim candles, and pumpkins carved with terrifying faces. Witches, demons, zombies, and vampires are common, and are all boiled down to their simplest images. They’re also inspired by religious traditions from around the world.
I think Halloween is a strong example of how cultural diffusion works on a global scale. While there are many good arguments that Halloween encourages the harmful practice of cultural appropriation and misrepresentation—and I don’t disagree with most of them—I think there’s a lot of creative good here. It’s not just the story of immigrants coming to North America and bringing their own traditions, though that’s also a huge part of it. To me, it’s more the story of international discovery and enthusiasm for reinterpreting the new. For example, since the Haitian practice of zombification became known mainstream, it’s been reinterpreted as a horror concept used to explore the dangers of consumerism. Now, the Western interpretation of zombies is a cornerstone of filmmaking. While we should be aware of how this impacts Haitian traditional culture and our view of it, I also think diversity for diversity’s sake is a good thing. New art always has merit, and Halloween is full of new art.
The other major positive with Halloween is its unique approach to fear. Demons, evil spirits, and ghosts were and still are massively feared things; supernatural forces that can ruin lives and exist far beyond our human ability to understand or fully perceive no doubt sounds terrifying. Halloween defeats this fear and encourages us to dress kids up in demon costumes to ask for candy. Halloween encourages us to animate a skeleton dancing to “Spooky Scary Skeletons” in a badly-drawn graveyard. It gives us fragile, mundane humans a chance to laugh at the face of true unnatural evil itself, to acknowledge the inevitable unfairness of death and still go to a party dressed as a pirate.
I believe that underneath the silliness, candy, and rampant alcoholism, there’s a very serious aspect of Western culture here. Maybe you can interpret it as us mocking cultural beliefs around the world, and you might not be wrong. I prefer to see it as our culture, for one day, teaming up with our kids and rejecting fear of the supernatural itself. Or maybe I just want to get trashed and carve a pumpkin.