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What We Hide From
Let’s talk about death. Wait, wait! Don’t close the page. I’m talking about Halloween!
Seriously, when was the last time you and your friends (or family, or whoever) sat around and talked about death. Not about how sad it was that folks died here or there in that tragedy. I’m talking about actually discussing your own deaths, you know the single inevitable in your whole lives. Yeah, that’s what I thought. I haven’t either. It’s pretty much taboo to talk about death. We shuffle bodies off into morgues and funeral homes. Hell in my family we just burn the body down to ash straight away, nice and neat and no creepy body hanging about. (Wait, that sounded weird, we don’t burn the body. We pay professionals to do that, way less creepy… Sort of.)
But once a year all the taboos go away. Once a year we put skeletons out on our front porches like we’d pulled Uncle Albert out of the family crypt. We dress up like scary monsters, or undead versions of ourselves and we go nuts. Or we at least walk around behind our kids in their wildly imaginative costumes planning on stealing some of their chocolate (taste testing dammit!) and smiling at a night totally set aside for something we normally wouldn’t ever discuss.
There’s something about human beings that loves being scared. So long as it’s in a safe and controlled way. We adore haunted houses, even as we dread them. We love walking around in the dark letting our imaginations run wild about what the moving shadow over there might be (it’s a fat sleepy raccoon wondering what the heck is going on) and making up all sorts of awesome monsters. And let’s be honest, death scares us, a lot. Half the time we won’t even say the word. “My Mom passed away.” “Grandpa has gone to heaven.” “When did your husband pass?” (Pass what, a kidney stone? That slow dude in the left lane?) It’s almost like saying the word dead will summon up the grim reaper again.
Wearing Our Demons on the Outside
Halloween was once a time where people huddled inside behind tightly locked doors because it was the night that the spirits of the dead walked the earth. No one wanted to be out and about then, no one wanted to end up getting dragged off to the underworld. But back then we lived right cheek to cheek with death. We bathed, dressed, and buried our own dead with our own hands. We lived and died in the same bed in which we’d been born. Today we are disconnected and distant from death.
Halloween has changed with us. We no longer huddle in our houses waiting for the dead to get back in their graves where they belong. We wander out there in the darkness with them, getting close to death even for just one night. And getting close to the darkness within ourselves as well. It’s no mistake that we wear costumes on Halloween. Originally they were meant to confuse the dead, but today they serve a different purpose. They let us wear the fears, or dreams we can’t voice on the outside. We become witches, or zombies because there’s a thrill in those taboo things. We become sexy nurses or nuns (this is me rolling my eyes) because sex is nearly as taboo as death.
And so we are, for one night, all the things we cannot be in our nice, polite, suburban lives.
The Thrill & The Revulsion
Even Halloween has found itself being pushed more and more into the realm of the nice and the safe. Kids costumes come prepackaged and branded with characters from their favorite shows instead of being messy and homemade. In the world of Pinterest and magazine spreads decorations have moved from the macabre and frightening into the tasteful and Instagram worthy. As much as we might be thrilled about stepping out of our safe cultural norms for one day, we’re afraid of even that.
And so Halloween is in danger of becoming just one more day to paint over the frightening truths we avoid in our everyday lives. It is in danger of becoming just one more consumer holiday, an excuse to sell us things we don’t need and spend money we don’t have. (We may already be there as we spend 8.4 billion dollars on Halloween!)
Confront Your Dark Side
I’m going to give you permission (or a challenge) if that’s what you need to confront your dark side this Halloween.
What are you afraid of? What is it totally taboo to talk about in your little corner of the world? This is the time to put that on, to put our insides on the outside. Make fun of your fears, it’s the oldest trick in the book. Make this Halloween messy and authentic, and real. Here are some ideas for really getting into the spirit of the holiday and letting the darkness out to play.
- Make your own costume, it doesn’t have to be perfect, revel in doing something that isn’t about perfection.
- Dress up as death, the undead, or a monster.
- If you go trick-or-treating try to out after dark (yes even if that’s after bedtime) when it’s spooky and quiet and cold.
- Throw a themed Halloween party and ask everyone to come as the thing they’re most afraid of.
- Host a ghost story contest after dark on the 31st. Go all out, I suggest a bonfire and a flashlight to illuminate the face of the storyteller. The more shrieks and giggles the better.
- Brainstorm creepy body parts with your kids and lookup recipes to make them for your party. Here are some to try. Eyeballs, brains, guts! Yumm!
- Make your porch into a miniature haunted house with creepy decorations, and spooky sounds.
- Did you know the ancient Celts carved turnips into scary faces to ward off evils spirits? It’s where we get our modern carving tradition. Make your own door guardians with pumpkins (easier to carve) and set them out on the porch to make sure only trick-or-treaters make it to your door, not spirits.
- Read a few traditional scary stories like Edgar Allen Poe’s Tell-tale Heart. Here’s a great list that includes some of my all time favorite spooky stores.