I hate Halloween. Not in a lazy sort of a way. I hate it actively.
I love hating Halloween. I have spurned general and specific resentments, am done with the righteous indignation of youth, find anger exhausting and often pointless unless it is precise, well-thought out and wielded like a surgeon’s laser. But my path to guru-dom would be so glum if I couldn’t seethe at some things. So Halloween it is.
I don’t have a problem with the pagan nature of Halloween, as some do. I’m all for paganism. I’m even for mainstream religious stuff, as long as its aim is not to embrace me in its exclusivity, or harm anyone – though that is seldom the case.
What I have a problem with is that it is new. Yes, I know it’s not newnew. It’s just new here. I don’t celebrate Anzac Day, or Bastille Day, or Guy Fawkes, or Independence Day, so why should I celebrate an end-of-summer ritual the Celts began thousands of years ago when I have not an ounce of Celtic blood in my veins, and summer’s just beginning.
I’ll tell you why I am expected to put up with costumes and elaborate arrangements for going trick and treating: it’s because of cultural imperialism. And this is where I stand my ground. Americans – who inherited the festival from the Celts in the first place – are fully entitled to celebrate Halloween with the gusto and enthusiasm they do. Wipe yourselves out with pumpkin pie and ghouls, say I. Whatever blows your star-spangled skirts up.
The festival, in essence, has its roots in a time when people were far more invested in the origins and fate of their food. It’s linked to harvest festivals but also to pagan festivals of the dead. It all became a bit mixed-up – if you want a frank assessment of the history – with pagans and Christians and gathering resources before winter, and with some groups believing that on 31 October the boundaries between the living and the dead overlapped.
Which is why Halloween is such a mish-mash of images: pumpkins (autumn food); skulls and skeletons (the dead); disguises (so that when the dead spirits come to seek revenge and cause havoc won’t recognise you) and sweeties (to appease the evil spirits). It’s all very deurmekaar, and that’s fine. I wouldn’t like Halloween more if it was more coherent.
I will just never like Halloween, because it is nothing but another excuse to dish out money on cheap tat – probably made by child workers in the East somewhere – and indulge children’s natural penchant for sugar orgies. Nothing at all to do with thinking about where our food comes from and how to value it.
I inherited the tradition of Christmas from my forebears and it would be disingenous to make as though I scoff at it when in fact I deeply appreciate its role as a giver of ritual, togetherness and new beginnings. But I did not inherit Halloween and I will not pass it on.
So when the spectre of Halloween first raised its rude, insistent head in my children’s lives I made my resistance clear. I will not bend one degree to accommodate Halloween in my life. I will, however, bend in the opposite direction to resist it.
It takes some serious muscle though. It requires the will to explain my stand against rampant consumerism and galling imperialism to all the parents who are always saying to me “Ag, it’s just a bit of fun for the kids”. Well, cheap shot, I think. Is your implication that I am against fun? And anyway, if it’s just about the pursuit of fun for kids, are you also celebrating and forking out for Eid, Christmas, Diwali and Hannukah this year?
And it takes colossal creative thinking to explain to the kids that Halloween is the apparently innocuous face of those two troublesome –isms.
While the children are welcome to take part in Halloween with their friends, they understand now that I am not to be drawn into arrangements or the untying of any purse strings. I will not buy Halloween make-up or cut holes in sheets for little ghosts. I will not buy sweets for trick or treaters. I will not trawl the streets of my suburb with a small band of monsters to inflict Halloween on others. I will not spend one cent or one kilojoule on Halloween.
So I spend every October defending my position to long-faced children and parents of the children’s friend. At the end of the month I feel like I require my own little festival of the dead souls just to toast my own tenacity.
I am the scrooge of Halloween. My pointless little battle enlivens me…as lost causes often do.