Halloween

Halloween from Wikipedia

For many kids, today (Halloween) is the most wonderful time of the year.

And for many people of faith, it’s a day that they struggle with how to honor their faith in the midst of aspects of Halloween that they are uncomfortable with.

Some pundits, Muslim and Christian, Jewish and Hindu, etc., issue annual statements about the pagan origins of Halloween, and why their community should not participate in it.

This is not one of those columns.

I love the excitement of the children.  Yes, even the candy part. Especially the looks on their faces when they’re allowed to take two pieces of candy instead of one.  I love them so carefully look the bowl over before picking up their favorite piece.

I love the fact that this is the one day of the year in many neighborhoods where people open their doors and receive one another as what we are all along:  neighbors.   And how I wish we would live like this every day, like a real community.  And I wonder what it says about us when we feel comfortable going up to our neighbors only when we are wearing masks.  How did so many of us get so alienated from our neighbors?

I am not interested in demarcating a beloved community away from “America”, because beautiful and ugly, commercialized and ethically responsible, this—all of it—is us.  All of it is America.

Yes, I struggle with certain parts of Halloween. I struggle to see 10 year old girls dressed up in ways that project a type of precious sexuality.   It breaks my heart to see the girls’ costume aisle look like something out of a perverted male fantasy.

I struggle with the 365 day monster, the Market, conquering yet another corner of our lives.
I struggle with seeing overburdened working poor families who no longer have the time to make costumes, and succumb to yet another extension of the privatized Market into our lives.
I struggle with seeing parents—by which I mean my own family as well—walk into these seasonal stores and put down 30-40-50 dollars per child to purchase something that the kids will wear for two hours.     For families with multiple children, the burden is considerable.

boy costume

boy costume from shutterstock

Just as much, I marvel at seeing the kids dressed up like demons and ghouls and monsters.   I understand the “Carnival” aspect, the inversion of conventional social norms, children’s fascination with power, even as I remain mindful of the subtle traces that our outward attires leaves on our heart.

I struggle with the resurgence in the “blackface” costumes this year, among children and college kids alike.

I struggle with why we are so offended with seeing human beings dressed up like monsters for two hours, when for the other 364 days of the year we see monsters dressed up like human beings, killing and raping and stealing and occupying and pillaging.

And ultimately I know that this, all of this, is us.

We are the monster.
We are the angelic.
We are the human where the monstrous and the divine mingle.

We are the good.
We are the evil.
We are the meeting place of light and darkness.

Each one of us, my own self included, is always a struggle, a tension, a dance, between inner monstrous desires of selfishness, evil, greed, violence, and the sublime truly human, truly divine qualities of love, service, compassion, and kindness.

Witch costume

Witch costume from shutterstock

As Rumi says:

I am tired of demons and monsters.
I seek to find one real human being.

That one that I seek,
I have to become.

Happy Halloween y’all.

 

6 Comments

  1. Thanks for the nice article! That’s what I thought about our neighbors too. I am usually the friendly neighbor, but they seem to be friendly back when it is Halloween, Christmas or Thanksgiving (I’m in NYC).

  2. I do not agree. Putting the history of Halloween (a contraction of the words All Hallows Evening, which has been a predecessor to the Christian holidays of All Hallows Day and of All Saints Day since the 16th century) aside, I reject that the holiday how we currently celebrate it is simply a celebration of monsters and demons. How many children take the opportunity to dress up as heroes and heroines? Fireman, police officers, super heroes, nurses, doctors, scientists, wonderful characters from books and movies and television roam the streets on this night, too. Also running around in the crowds of little kids excited by sweet treats are dogs, cats, dinosaurs, pumpkins, bananas, bumblebees, fairies, wizards, princesses, video game characters, and the occasional solar system (my cousin’s daughter). In fact, I would say that the non-monster, non-demon costumes outnumbered the monster/demon costumes in my neighborhood 8 to 1.

    So when you dismiss Halloween as a celebration of monsters/demons, you show your ignorance of both the history of the festival and your ignorance of the children in your own community, many of whom take the opportunity to dress up as wonderful, caring, heroic figures in order to feel wonderful and heroic themselves.

    The point of Halloween has never, ever been to celebrate monsters/demons. In the 16th century, All Hallows Eve, All Hallows Day, and All Saints Day were a festival to remember the dead. They were Holy Days of Obligation in the primitive Christian church and were meant to remember and sometimes to pacify the souls of the departed in communities who believed that the dead could influence the world of the living.

    Now, Halloween has been co-opted by candy companies to further sales of candy. It’s not a religious festival any more. However, that doesn’t mean that children don’t learn anything from the holiday or that it should be avoided by Christians or any other faith.

    In Judaism, we are taught that the masks we wear daily hide our truest selves and that the bravest of all of us remove those masks no matter what the personal cost (Book of Esther). Can Halloween instead be seen as a time when children can dress up as either something they long to be (heroic, powerful), something they struggle with (darkness or pain), or something they want to explore more closely (how it feels to be a cat or a solar system)? Can it not be seen as an exercise in learning empathy, in exploring one’s own humanity, in engaging creativity and whimsy?

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