Wednesday was Halloween. Today is All Souls’ Day.
On Halloween, in homes all over the United States, kids will have woken well in advance of sunrise to put on costumes they’d been waiting to wear outside the house all week. They or their parents will have applied blue eye shadow zombie eyes and whiskers and false eyelashes, maybe even fake wounds or dripping blood with mom’s cherry red lipstick. Special packages of tights and gloves and false nails and fake teeth will have been torn open and donned. Hearts will have beat a little faster. Footsteps will have fallen with more bounce.
Some of the kids who couldn’t dress up for school will have come home to parents eager to quickly morph them into the super hero(ine)/famous athlete/cartoon character they’d been dying to be for months. Little (and big) hands will have reached for cheap plastic jack-o-lantern buckets or pillowcases or some such carrying device for the cavity-inducing deliciousness that will fill the next several weeks. Last minute glances in the mirror to make sure that tight is ripped just right, that bloodstain is red enough, those stitches are black enough, that wig is teased enough, and the out into the blustery, cold, autumn night, with its smell that is just so…autumnal. The smell of October. Nothing like it in the world.
Naughty older boys and girls, perhaps resentful of their in-between age will have left the house with little more than a sweater and jeans; their mothers calling out to put on a coat, “for crying out loud!” They’ll have hidden their eggs and toilet paper rolls and hysterical giggles, out for the worst…the tricksters…somebody’s gotta do it.
Even grown-ups will have put more effort into getting dressed than they have in months—maybe a whole year. They’ll have wondered if their costume will impress. Some of the ladies will have felt emboldened by the chance to be as sexy as they like; others will have proudly left the house in a costume consciously constructed so as to draw attention only to their refusal to be objectified. Big salad bowls filled with strange juicy alcopop concoctions brimming over with dry ice will have graced tables topped with black plastic tablecloths covered in tiny ghosts and pumpkins. Dads will have gone outside to make sure the sensor-activated living dead pop up when passersby pass by. Moms will have applied a witch’s hat squarely to head. Both will have made sure that their favorite candies were buried at the bottom of the bowl, well out of temptation’s reach (or perhaps in the hopes they’ll be left over at the end of the night). Porch lights will have been switched on or off with intention. Jack-o-lanterns will have been lit. Tombstones will have been straightened. Special scary music will have been turned on at full blast with no concern for the neighbors who are anything but concerned.
It was Halloween.
I love Halloween. Deeply.
I was raised Catholic, and I did my fair share of praying to the saints before my faith finally gave up the ghost at the wise old age of 14. Most U.S. American Catholic families buy into Halloween without any issues—like Santa, it gives them a platform to talk about a holiday in which it might be sort of hard to garner interest otherwise. For those of you not well-versed in Halloween’s origins, it comes from All Saints Day, which many people believe actually came from Samhain and was ripped off by the Catholics way back when they were burning the sins out of the Pagans. Mexicans also celebrated this holiday before the Catholics ever came around (although it was in August).
While I’m in no way impressed with Catholic history, I love this holiday because of its origins, not in spite of them. This is a holiday that was celebrated all over the world long before it got the name Halloween, All Hallows Eve, Dia de los Muertos or the-day-before-All Saints Day. This day is an intercultural common denominator we’ve lost touch with in too many ways to mention.
This is a day to celebrate our dead.
But I love all the other stuff. I love doing the twist to “The Monster Mash” because I have no idea what the actual Monster Mash is supposed to look like. I love getting my Molly Ringwald groove on to “Dead Man’s Party.” I love getting dressed up and sticking bobby pins here for one friend and safety pins there for another. I love nailing somebody else’s zombie makeup and hearing people tell them all night how awesome it is. I love dreaming up what on Earth I’m going to be—sometimes well in advance and with lots of prep (Queen Arthur—fabulous), sometimes the day of owing to circumstances beyond my control (Mrs. Roper—equally fabulous). I love handing out candy to kids and I love the idea of pretending I don’t know who they are when I really do, but I’ve never gotten to do that because I left the U.S. too long ago and never stayed somewhere long enough to get to know the kids growing up in my neighborhoods.
There are a lot of personal pros and cons to living in a whole bunch of places all over the world. One of my cons is Halloween. Nobody outside of North America gets it. And it totally bums me out.
“It’s just a commercial gimmick,” they said in England. Oh yeah? Tell that to my mom as she painstakingly sewed my ladybug costume together in 1983.
“It’s too gory,” they say in France. Yeah, well, maybe. But then death can be. Getting scared doesn’t have to be a bad thing. As if they don’t watch horror movies all over the world! It’s half-truth, half-fantasy. Our fantasies have been gory since forever. Want proof? Check out the old fairy tales.
Oh, I get it—U.S. American holidays have been forced en masse to the entire world in the name of profit—from Valentine’s Day cards to Easter bunnies to the cheap, sweatshop produced nylon witches costumes good for one year and one year only. I know.
But here’s the thing: after nearly a decade living abroad, I don’t get homesick very often. Then along comes gloomy September (I’m from Southern California), and all I can think about is, if only Halloween were just around the corner, this wouldn’t be so bad. And it is, but it doesn’t matter. Honestly, nobody cares. And when I wax lyrical about how much I love it, I get flustered and emotional because I’m seasonally affected and Thanksgiving is coming up (another big fave) to boot.
So as I write this article on the first day of November, All Saints Day—la Toussaint here—having just returned from leaving flowers at the grave of my in-laws’ dear friend at a cemetery nearby (a lovely way of celebrating the dead, mind), I heave a great sigh for another Halloween come and gone, with nary a trick nor treat in sight.
Admittedly, Halloween on the East Coast must have sucked. Anybody out there reading this, I’m so sorry for what you’re all going through, and my thoughts are with you.
Editor: Brianna Bemel
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