I am cynical about many things. Valentines Day to me is a load of commercial bullshit; in its modern incarnation it exists to sell chocolate, flowers, and other trivial items in the name of ‘love’. Personally, I think that if you are so inclined to buy your loved one gifts such as these, then you don’t need a designated day to do it. Or you can show your affection in other ways all year round!
Easter? Not for me. I don’t understand why people give things up for Lent even when they don’t have the slightest Christian inclination. And again, this obsession with chocolate, which as far as I’m aware has nothing to do with Jesus? But Halloween. Halloween is a different story.
Being an eccentric who enjoys dressing up whenever possible, Halloween is the perfect excuse to go all out with amazingly creative and gruesome costumes. Now I know there will always be the tirade of ridiculous "sexy" Halloween costumes - sexy pumpkin, sexy cat, sexy candycorn - but I tend to ignore these, as they put a damper on all of the things that I associate with Halloween. When I was a child we celebrated Halloween in my home in a huge way. All of my family would come round, we would dress up, decorate the house so that it looked like a haunted manor, and make a vast array of spooky cakes, jellies, and fruit punch with eyeballs or spiders floating in it. I would spend time with these family members I loved, and whom I hardly got to see at any other time in the year, and it was always the holiday I looked forward to the most. Halloween, to me, means friends, family, and creativity (and a night where I can watch every Tim Burton film in a row and feel somewhat justified).
Although I know that like Easter and Valentines Day, Halloween celebrations have deviated immensely from their Celtic origins, I still think of Halloween as having a special significance in my life and in the lives of many others. There is a childlike joy associated with Halloween, I think. It is the anticipation of something magical, something supernatural. Even as an adult, I still get that buzz of excitement when hanging up my plastic bats and fake spider webs, preparing to bake cakes in the shape of human brains. In the end, it may be a bunch of commercial crap just like Valentines Day, but that doesn’t stop it being fun as hell as a great way to show off your zombie make-up skills.
The under-aged drinkers are out in packs, dressed as slutty dead nurses; the 4-year-olds are carving pumpkins that resemble a smashed-up crab; and the trick-or-treaters are knocking on stranger’s doors pleading for goodies. Halloween is around the corner! Now to most of us, Halloween means obscene amount of sweets stuffed into our pockets, an excuse to get dressed up, to be covered in fake blood and drink a bit too much Jäger, but have we ever thought about where this bizarre celebration came from? Have we lost the true meaning of Halloween, hiding behind our Scream masks and beer goggles?
Halloween is one of the oldest holidays in history that we still celebrate today, which is pretty god-damn weird, since it’s defined as an ancient Pagan holiday to honour the dead. Let’s be honest, Halloween doesn’t stand for much these days. It’s a mash-up of old beliefs that we no longer care about anyway! Yet I know I’m not alone when I get slightly hysterical the moment pumpkins hit the shopping aisles!
Personally, I love a good excuse to get dressed up and go nuts. I mean, how can you not love this time of year? We sit on eBay until the early hours searching for the perfect outfit, we buy decorations, candy and chocolate to impress the miniature trick-or-treaters that come knocking, but the question is, why? Why would we bother spending our hard-earned cash on coloured contacts and pumpkins that barely last a week? It's because we love this time of year and there is nothing better than getting into the spirit of autumnal festivities!
You’re not wrong if you’re thinking that our oldest known holiday has evolved into a money making scheme. Think about how much money have you spent on Halloween over the years (without having a mental financial breakdown): fake blood, fangs, pumpkins, face paint, costumes, contacts and alcohol have all consumed our wages. But c’mon, we can’t care that much, because we fall for it every year! (And I call it wages well spent!)
Thing is, any excuse to dress up like an oompa-loompa and go out on the town, leaving our dignity in the gutter, is a tradition too good to write off! Do we know what Halloween stands for? No. Do we actually give a shit? Didn’t think so. Now pass me the fangs, hand me the Jäger and get me a pumpkin to carve!
I’m going to throw another idea into the ring: Halloween night still dances on that tenuous border between our world, and whatever murky next exists. I can hear (and not through any spooky supernatural ability) the cries of “C’mon? Ghosts? you can’t be serious?” but that’s not exactly what I’m trying to suggest. And I’ve also got to admit to a certain bias: I was raised in the United States, and as a direct consequence, my eyes light with an eerie green fire whenever October rolls around. I love it. I adore it. Brought up on a sugary diet of campfire ghost stories, sickly sweet pumpkin pie and a neighbour in Michigan that quite literally turned her home into a ghost’s face (courtesy of several air pumps and one very large balloon) I am addicted to the cheap thrills of Halloween. I don’t really care about smothering my face in a combination of fake blood and vodka shots: what appeals to me about Halloween is the “spooky”. Dark nights, walks through the trees, grinning jack o’lanterns and the whistling autumn wind. These are the kind of images that we now see adorning cards and overpriced “seasonal” T-shirts, but for me at least, they have a resonance that exists beyond the alluring call of consumer economies (which I want to believe explains my ownership of two of the disgustingly tacky things).
I'd always had a morbid curiosity about monster stories as a child – the things that crawl in the dark and inspire a universal tingling fear – and wondered where it was that cultural rituals like Halloween had come from. Because all festivals come from somewhere, and I thought it pretty telling that October and November mark the beginning of a time when human beings everywhere begin to desperately look for ways to stave off the dark: filling it with light, burning effigies and praying to old gods. There’s something about Halloween: something greater than its marketing potential, and I think that’s why we continue to hold it so dear. It’s easier to look at fear and laugh when it’s ritualised, or when your mate wearing a monster’s face falls drunk out of a cab.