Halloween: I Don’t Get It

At the risk of sounding like a boring old fart, I don’t like or understand Halloween. To be more specific, I don’t get the idea of a) scaring ourselves silly, or b) dressing up and/or decorating using various motifs related to death. I don’t have any issues with dressing up as a fairy, animal, etc. but I just can’t get my head around dressing up as, say, a skeleton or making a “meat head” out of luncheon meats and cheese.

It all just seems so…fake and paradoxical. Paradoxical, because often in Western society it seems that we sanitise death when we encounter it in real life. Real death is talked about in euphemisms, the body is cleaned up and placed in a casket, many people wear black, and loud, public grief seems to be discouraged. I once wrote a short story that included a body rotting in the jungle after a plane crash. Because that’s what bodies do in hot jungles. I know. I’ve seen it. But some people in the class I submitted the story for reacted with horror. “You can’t talk about it that way,” they said. “You can’t use that much detail.” I was surprised. From my perspective, I was simply telling things the way they happen.

And yet, at Halloween, we use death as an occasion to dress up in polyester and face paint and frighten ourselves. Maybe it is necessary for us to do this as a kind of catharsis that we don’t get when actually facing death. I don’t know the answer. What I do know is that what I have seen of death in some other cultures is very different. It is not sanitised. In the village I grew up in the body is laid out in the house and the family members can sit all around, hugging it, stroking it, singing it into the afterlife. It isn’t dressed up, there is no makeup to make the face look more alive. There is much wailing as more mourners arrive at the house and are greeted by relatives. Outward grief is encouraged. To me, this is what death is. Not clean, not separate from the living, but a part of everyday life, and a part that isn’t to be hidden or to be dolled up in masks and other paraphernalia so that we can fool ourselves into believing it is something else.

So, that’s my two cents and why I don’t celebrate Halloween. To be honest, not many people in New Zealand do anyway, though it is starting to become more popular. But it just isn’t for me.

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