Why Halloween Just Won't Go Away

What is Halloween really about?

Posted Oct 24, 2011

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This article on Halloween deserves an introduction.
The evening of October 31st is special for about ninety five percent of Americans. It is not a sacred day nor is it a real holiday, but rather it's a day that families simply enjoy. Anything that endures, generation after generation, like Halloween, does so because it is meaningful on a deeper level. This piece is directed to the vast majority of people who love Halloween and find it deliciously playful.
Now there are exceptions, and not everyone sees Halloween in the impishly defiant and magical way that I portray it. For instance, people who are devoutly religious may see Halloween as a pagan holiday since God is ignored and strange spirits, like ghosts and goblins, are exalted. I can understand this and they have a point, but I would argue that they are taking Halloween too seriously.  This day, of children dressed as demons, damsels, and heroes, is the essence of make believe.  It is an existential celebration and not a religious one.
Then, there are the teenagers and troubled adults who use Halloween as an excuse to cause mischief, and sometimes much worse. Perhaps seeing so many happy children is just too much for these miscreants to bear.

The trees glow with brilliant colors. The air is sweet, its coolness refreshing to the skin. There is nothing like a brilliant autumn evening with the stars staring back down at you. It's late October and the days are getting shorter. And, during the past few weeks, the sky is somehow cleaner -- a crisp and beautiful endless blue. This change, after a period of unusual warmth, is more strongly felt.

Winter is coming.

Life is a cycle. To paraphrase Ecclesiastes, there is a time for war and a time for peace, a time for planting and a time for reaping, there is a time for spring and a time for winter and in the grand scheme of it all -- a time for the cycle of life and death, of vitality and of stillness. The shift from a season of life, captured in the colorful vitality of spring and summer to the season of death -- the barrenness of winter -- is now at hand.

Yet, in the midst of this change of seasons comes a peculiar celebration called Halloween: an event that mocks the Grim Reaper and Father Time. It is the night when all frightening things, like fear, horror, decay, disfigurement and our essential vulnerability -- are held in grand ridicule.

We look to our children to shoo away the monsters and our fears, as they overcome their own. It is our children who laugh at the scariness of long shadows, gruesome faces and dark cold nights.

Who is coming to visit you? Is it father time or death, himself? Which scary creature will bargain with you?

"Trick or treat?"

There are no tricks on Halloween, only treats. Tricks are the stuff of the darker forces of life and on October 31st none are allowed. We laugh at death and decay with the innocence of youth, the sweetness of candy and our joy at winning an important battle with life's darker forces.

Led by our children, Halloween allows us all to rise above the fear of death and, for a night, laugh in its face.

For children and teenagers, the frailty of life is meaningless. It is in the nature of things that most of their parents are still vibrant and healthy. Many of them have grandparents and some, great grandparents.

For kids, the passing of summer to fall and on to winter carries the excitement of one season moving into next. The deeply mystical and symbolic meaning that we adults may appreciate, escapes them. And, this is the way it is meant to be.

There is a cycle to everything important in nature, including our lives. The lives of people, the lives of generations, the lives of nations and the lives of all the memories, all tend to come and to go. This winter will also pass and in time spring will return, yet again; but not now.

Our kids on Halloween night do not care about philosophy. They become the Grim Reaper. They become Father Time. By identifying, they overcome and grow bigger -- for just a moment -- than decay, bigger than death itself.

To watch children walk about with defiant pleasure, enjoying the life of a vampire, a goblin or a ghost, is a heartwarming sight to see. Let them be super heroes for a night or bewitching maidens. On Halloween, our children can be and overcome anything.

Only tonight can a little girl face a strange adult and demand "trick or treat?" We remember our own parents, our own Halloweens, and how sweet it was.

We see in ourselves and in our children something both futile and noble -- a triumph of will over the forces of fear and darkness. Look how vulnerable they are and yet how self-confident. In the imagination, so much is possible.

In this day of economic recession and certain climate change, it is good to remember that the human spirit yearns for something better.

The biggest treat of them all? It is for us adults. We get to witness yet another generation of children who take pleasure in this magical night.

Forget all the hype and commercialism. It really doesn't matter what anyone is wearing, if they are willing to play the game.

Humanity's immortality lies in the fact that our seed, our ideas, our passion, our imagination, and our goodness transcend nature's cycle. The generations going forward carry this modest victory for us. This is our mocking and our truest response to winter, summer, spring, and fall.

We are part of a continuity that counts and there is nothing dark about that.

Happy Halloween.