What is it about Halloween? Is it the joy we take in artifice? Do we believe costumes can transform us into something or someone else? Do we think decorating with undead characters and murderers and mystical figures puts us in an acceptable place to explore our own dark sides? Do we like to scare ourselves? In the end, is it just an excuse to eat too much and (for adults) drink excessively just like almost any other holiday we celebrate in the US?
I don't think any of these things are a bad reason to like Halloween. I just question if celebrating Halloween excessively really accomplishes any of this.
Halloween has become a massive commercial enterprise. It is second only to Christmas. Costume shops pop up in every neighborhood. Every department store, drugstore, convenience store, supermarket, and card store is filled with Halloween decorations, costumes, accessories, and Halloween-related foods. Then there are the haunted houses and carnivals and pumpkin picking.
The National Retail Federation forecasts a total spend of $9.1 billion, and that includes:
- $3.4 billion on costumes
- Of that, $440 million on pet costumes
- $2.7 billion on candy
- $2.7 billion on decorations
- $410 million on greeting cards
- $300 million on haunted attractions
I think what gives me the most pause about Halloween in the thought people put into their costumes. People care more about what costume to wear than they care about their Christmas shopping list. The options are dizzying. Do you go to a costume shop and buy something off the rack? Is that too unoriginal? Do you try to create a costume out of items already in your wardrobe? Do you assemble something original but buy a few separate pieces (like wear your own dress, but accessorize with a costume shop hat and sword)? Do you make something entirely from scratch by sewing new clothes or constructing something from papier mache? Do you buy a store-bought costume and accessorize it with sexy lingerie and too much makeup and thus become a "Sexy (Insert costume here)"?
In the end, does the artifice transform you? Do you truly feel like a new persona, or is it just something you did for the photos? You go into the party, you see if your friends recognize what you are supposed to me, and take some photos. Then an hour later wish you could take the uncomfortable thing off already. Is that more accurate?
But it's not just our own costumes. Are you too old to go trick-or-treating? Well, you're not if you have a baby. It doesn't even matter if your baby doesn't even have teeth to eat candy with yet. Just buy a costume for the kid and take him through the neighborhood. Your baby doesn't know or care that it's Halloween, but it makes a great accessory for your own amusement. Your baby will outgrow the costume next year, so you have to buy another one and spend even more money. You can still go trick-or-treating while you wait for the kid to grow up and you can still eat all of "his" candy without guilt.
Don't even get me started on people who dress up their dogs. I couldn't believe it the first time I was in a pet store with a dog-owning friend and saw that the store sold actual dog costumes. Yes, people pay real money to dress up their dogs. I saw my friend struggle to pick one out that would fit her dog. This isn't even about the waste of money. This is about the fact that your poor dog has to suffer. Your dog doesn't care about Halloween. In fact, Halloween can be quite stressful for dogs when they see an enormous load of people walking through the neighborhoods at night and then ringing the doorbell. Do you want to add to that stress by making them wear an uncomfortable costume? Dogs hate having stuff on them. Why would you do this to them for hours on end just because you think it's cute and will make some fun Instagram photos?
I do understand that adults want in on the fun. The children are having a blast scoring pounds of chocolate and playing pranks on each other. What do we get? Adults deserve to be in on it too since we're the ones spending the money. Unfortunately, as it is with most holidays in the 21st century, we are taking it too far. It's not about candy or costumes. It's another night of drunken revelry, of hard partying, of alcohol poisoning and drunk driving accidents waiting to happen. Our culture never seems to stop becoming dependent on alcohol for a good time and Halloween is just another excuse for excessive drinking and carelessness.
Halloween is not a religious holiday (unless you're a Satanist or practitioner of Wiccan/Pagan tradition that celebrates Samhain). It is not a time for warm family gathering. It's not even romantic. So many other holidays, including the most commercialized ones, have a reason to exist. At best Halloween just a time for people who consider themselves to be rebels and "alternative" to prove how cool they are by celebrating the macabre and darkness. That is just becoming a cliche`.
The worst part of Halloween is the reverse side of it. This is supposed to be a time when our children can go a little wild and eat sweets and roam around at night. Paranoid parents spoil it for them by being suspicious of everyone and everything. I remember hordes of kids passing by my decorated, well-lit house during the last years I lived at home. There were no children in the house, my mother and my brother and I were not known parents, so families deliberately skipped our house because they don't "know" us. Even though there is no evidence that child murderers are out to poison children on Halloween, too many crazy parents still believe it. Don't ring the bell at the home of a relative stranger even if the house is lit and decorated. Don't eat any homemade cookies or cupcakes. Don't eat apples because there are razor blades in them (that myth won't die even though there has NEVER been a razor blade in an apple).
Parents, every day of the year people who don't really know touch your children's food. You decide you can trust them, but that doesn't mean you can. Your food is touched by wholesalers, grocery store workers, truckers, cafeteria workers, cooks, and servers. Why do you trust that cupcake from a bake sale just because it came from a church or charitable organization, but not one from your neighbor? Why do you automatically trust one group of people over another? NO ONE IS TRYING TO POISON YOUR KIDS. Just let them eat what they want (as long as it doesn't make them sick due to overeating or allergies). It someone really wanted to kill your child, he wouldn't have waited until Halloween to do it. You child is more likely to die in your car.
I'm not a Grinch (or even a Sexy Grinch). I am not anti-Halloween. There will be a bowl of candy in my home on Halloween night and I hope the children will come and claim some. There is a costume contest in my office and I will be participating. I thought of an idea for a costume, so I decided I would try to win the cash prize. But if I hadn't thought of a costume, I wouldn't have stressed out about it. I'll eat some sweets too.
I just don't spend much of my time planning and obsessing with Halloween. I don't spend large amounts of money on it. It's just not on my priority list. I don't sit around in July wish for fall because I want Halloween to come. I'm going to enjoy the sun and the water and the most important holiday of the year - my birthday. Halloween can wait, and it can do just fine without me.