Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Why I Celebrate Halloween

Halloween, like many other US holidays, has its roots in pagan celebrations and other celebrations that many Christians consider heretical, occultic, or, at the least, unsavory. Its true name is, after all, “All Hallows’ Eve.” It is steeped in folklore about witches, demons, zombies, and ghosts. In many cultures, it is considered a time to contact the dead. But also like many other US holidays, over the years it has taken on a different significance, and the traditions associated with it have come to have very different meanings than they originally may have. So let me share why I celebrate Halloween.

Halloween is a time to dress up and pretend to be something other than what you are. I love Halloween for the same reason that I love theater. It allows me to shed my mild-mannered, introverted persona and take on the personality of someone more exciting and more assertive. Instead of a suburban housewife and mom, I can be a pirate, or a gypsy, or a princess, or a superhero. I can shed my usual jeans and sweater and put on a tiara and chandelier earrings and suddenly become glamorous. I can take a break from saving the change in the bottom of my purse by donning a mask and a cape and saving the world from evil.

Halloween is also one of the few times in our modern society when we go and visit our neighbors. Sure, I chat frequently with the people who live next door, but what about the family down the street or around the corner? I may see them when I’m out walking, but I never have the chance to actually introduce myself and my family. Trick or treating at Halloween gives me the opportunity to meet the people around me. And the neighbors with grown kids love to see how my kids are growing from year to year. Halloween can truly be a community holiday, if you let it.

Halloween is also a chance to splurge on candy. I don’t let my kids have candy very often, and when I do, it’s a very special treat. So getting a whole bag of candy and getting to eat more than one piece at a time makes Halloween a special, fun time for kids and parents alike. I have fond memories of sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace in my parents’ living room, sorting through my bag of Halloween treats and deciding which candy I would eat right away, which I would save for later, and which I would give to my sister. Kit Kats, Three Musketeers, and $100,000 bars were in the first category. M&Ms, Twizzlers, and Tangy Taffy were in the middle category. And anything involving coconut, nuts, or peanut butter always fell into the latter category. My kids aren’t quite old enough to be that discriminating yet, but I look forward to a few years from now when the careful negotiations begin: “I’ll trade you two packs of Nerds and a bite-size Baby Ruth for that full-size Snickers bar.”

And finally, because of its connection with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, Halloween is, to me, a holiday of remembrance. Celebrated by many branches of the Christian church, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day are celebrated immediately following All Hallows’ Eve, with prayers for the souls of family and friends who have died. The Mexican celebration of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is also a day to remember, pray for, and celebrate loved ones who have died. These holidays celebrate the dead, not with fear but with affection. So on Halloween, I remember those I have loved and loss. I think of my parents, my grandparents, my brother-in-law Glen, my friend Nancy. I recall all the love and laughter they brought into my life, and I am grateful that I was blessed by knowing each one of them.

So tonight, I’ll happily and without guilt dress my kids up in costumes, take them trick or treating, let them eat candy, and imagine my loved ones looking down on us and enjoying the holiday as much as we are. Because that’s why I celebrate Halloween.

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