Halloween arrives this week. It’s a mostly fun event that, as usual, is just a shallow and commercial version of an older holiday created to uplift us.
You can drop a lot of money on Halloween, between the candy, the costumes for the kids, and even adults-only costumes which include sexy witches and creative ways to demonstrate humans chopped into pieces.
I’ve noticed that the adult version of Halloween is quite a bit different from the kid version. For reasons that utterly escape me, there are plenty of grownups who enjoy films depicting extraordinarily gory, violent and depraved actions committed by warped, cruel and deranged psychopaths. I know such movies exist because of the plot descriptions on the DVD boxes I see in Walmart. The “Saw” franchise comes to mind. And “Chucky.” And the killer clown in “It.” But I’m sure there are many more I’ve missed. These movies come and go except during Halloween when they come and stay, usually near the check-out stands.
Children, hopefully, are protected from all the gore masquerading as entertainment, though I suspect they’re wading in it a lot sooner than previous generations, thanks to YouTube clips, modern TV crime shows, and news coverage of mass shootings. Take your pick.
I think that many of us are conflicted about Halloween. Some see it as a day that actually celebrates satanism—which, technically, is hard to dispute if you take it seriously, although most of us don’t. But this is why we see churches offering Halloween alternatives—usually with a Harvest Celebration theme.
Nevertheless, there are parents who become deeply concerned whenever spirts and witches, from Casper to Elizabeth Montgomery, are portrayed in a positive light. I’ve known parents who wouldn’t allow their children to read the Harry Potter books. You might snicker, but as a child I knew grownups who wouldn’t let their kids watch “The Wizard of Oz” because it contained—wait for it—a wizard, along with a witch described as “good.”
But there’s no getting around the fact that if you’re a child, Halloween is a ton of fun. Going around town in your costume when it’s dark, shouting “Trick or Treat,” and then checking your bag to make sure you got enough loot—it’s heady stuff for a six-year old. Sure, it’s expensive, but it’s not as expensive as Christmas. Parents just roll with the punches.
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Meanwhile, other countries have their own centuries-old celebrations at this time of year, and, to be honest, I like most of them better than our US version. My favorite is Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead (which, for the record, I knew about before I saw “Coco”).
For Dia de los Muertos you get your family together and head to the local cemetery where your ancestors now reside. You sing, you tell stories, you remember your loved ones in happy ways, since it’s understood the dead don’t want you to be sad because they’re gone. All of you, the living and the dead, have a great time together. And if the dead choose to decline the food provided for them, it’s just that much more for you and your living family.
Naturally, there would be some problems with this kind of celebration in the US. First, families are more spread out these days. Many of your relatives are buried elsewhere. You wouldn’t want them to feel left out.
Also, it might be snowing where you live, which could depress the general gaiety of the party.
But to be honest, I think the real reason the Day of the Dead won’t catch on in the US is because we depend too much on department stores to lead us in our celebrations. Dia de los Muertos might make people sing, but it wouldn’t do the same for cash registers. In fact, it would risk turning Halloween into a holiday similar to Thanksgiving—a day that, to its credit, has never been successfully commercialized except as a gateway drug to Black Friday.
Well, who am I kidding? American-style Halloween isn’t going anywhere. And after all, it has its charms. Candy and costumes? Pricey. Grandma looking surprised and not recognizing her own grandchildren? Priceless.