When my husband and I were first planning our life together, we both thought we wanted to be professors for various lifestyle reasons. We both like smart things, and, honestly, we both like to think of ourselves as smart. In the idea of it, being professors seemed really cool– we could call each other “doctor.”
I know, right?
We did both go on to do graduate studies, I have an MA in literature and rhetoric. Remember high school English class when the teacher said something like, “yes, but what does the random-object-from-a-story symbolize?” And most of you rolled your eyes and thought she was nuts? Not me. I was eating that stuff up. It still comes out here and there as a parent and artist, however it comes out most extensively during holidays with me adding symbolism and ritual to the usual traditions, making them all kinds of fraught with meaning. Ready to get fraught about Halloween??
BTW: This blog post is, in part, me explaining my choice of Halloween quotes (Poe, Bronte, Doyle, and Shakespeare). It is also so I can get all interpretive and symbolic on you about the strangest and funest holiday of the year.
Here’s my quick and un-doctoral take on why Halloween is an awesome holiday:
Fantasy & Imagination
Halloween legitimizes and encourages us to take a deeper step into a fantasy than we otherwise would. Not only is it OK to dress up as authentically like your favorite Sci-Fi character as possible, it is somehow, on this one day of the year, COOL to do so. Halloween costumes also force more reluctant children to use their imaginations. Imagination is implicit in the question, “what do you want to be for Halloween?” For more creative children, it’s an opportunity to really go wild. My daughter last year wanted to be a princess-witch-fairy. But even the classic (and sometimes copout) costumes that are just scary (or bloody) are fictions we create over and over again every October, like the classic witch, Dracula, or Frankenstein.
Fear is no fiction, especially to a small child. But Halloween allows us to
first acknowledge the scary things in our world and then transform them into something that resembles fun or enjoyment. The appeal of horror movies is that there is something exciting, enjoyable, and thrilling in being scared by a fiction. Costumes, spooky decorations, and corny treats in the image of witches, zombies, monsters, mummies, bats, spiders, etc, changes their meaning. A blood-spattered teenager walking the streets in ripped clothing is a sight to admire (nice make up job!) instead of one to be afraid of. A spider-shaped treat is enjoyable instead of gross. And plastic skeletons and ghosts hanging from the neighbors trees is festive instead of freaky. This change of meaning is empowering to those that would otherwise be afraid.
I could write a whole essay on the candy part of Halloween! An analysis of candy as an indicator of our true relationship with restraint and indulgence, a commentary on gratification and fixation, or an expose about parents turning a blind eye to the unbridled candy craze that takes over children. And teenagers. And, let’s be honest, adults. Because really, the main focus of this holiday is on getting treats. And that’s not a bad thing. Halloween becomes a sort of Kids Harvest Celebration. They are doing Kid-Work (play is a child’s work), they plan, gather, and put on their costume, go out into the world, knock doors, and earn the harvest of candy they gather. And then they feast. So maybe it’s more like Kid Thanksgiving? And that’s worth something, right? Despite the belly-aches and sugar highs, candy is doing all parents a good turn: teaching a child that hard work pays.
So let’s hear it for Halloween! Can I get a Trick or Treat??
*If you like the images in the post they are available of Etsy as a set for just $3.