Putting the fright back in Halloween


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The greatest classical movie of our time, Mean Girls, gave us this gem about Halloween: “In the regular world, Halloween is when children dress up in costumes and beg for candy. In Girl World, Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut, and no other girls can say anything about it.”

Now, first, the feminist in me would like to remind people they can wear whatever they want — however “slutty” it may be — on any night of the year, and no one can say a thing about it. But back to Halloween.

Modern Halloween celebrations have taken a huge leap from their traditional roots. All Hallows’ Evening has been celebrated for centuries, well before the time of Mean Girls.

Without going too deep into a dull history lecture, the celebration started as the Celtic Samhain festival. Supposedly, on Oct. 31, at the end of harvest season, the veil between the living world and the afterlife was lifted, allowing the dead to cross back, wielding plagues and curses. To scare off the evil spirits, people would dress even scarier than the ghosts, trying to keep them away.

So we’ve gone from terrifying outfits designed to prevent evil ghouls from ruining your life to fluffy animals and scantily clad musicians leading the pack of most popular costumes.

The holiday also has another function — to honor the dead. Day of the Dead, popular in Latin American culture, is meant to remember lost friends and families. Celebrators visit graves of the dead, leaving their favorite foods and other little gifts. Altars are built, and parties are thrown in the cemeteries, celebrating the lives the deceased had led and inviting them back to spend the day with those who survive them. It’s closely tied to All Saints Day and All Souls Day, which take place Nov. 1 and 2, respectively.

This is all a far cry from Halloween now. It used to be a way to remember those who had come before us; now, it’s not uncommon to hear people saying, “Man, my Halloween was great. Well, what I remember of it,” before sharing a laugh and a high-five. As for leaving mementoes on graves? Not so much anymore. Now, I hear of people trekking out to Oakland Cemetery to visit the Black Angel, exchanging stories of the urban legend, daring each other to walk beneath her extended wings. It doesn’t seem quite so respectful to the Feldevert family on the day they are able to return to the world of the living. Hopefully, those adventurers are at least dressed in terrifying costumes should Ms. Feldevert decide to make an appearance.

I’m pushing for a return to Halloween traditions. Definitely still eat a ton of candy, still dress up and share a drink with friends downtown, but remember we celebrate Halloween. Remember that this is one of the few truly American holidays that isn’t celebrated anywhere else quite like here. Since our wee days of trick-or-treating, we’ve known that Halloween was meant to be scary. The Nightmare Before Christmas taught us that, showed us the fun in a little fright. So put some scares back in Halloween — if evil spirits are coming to look for souls to terrorize, I don’t want to be an easy target dressed up as a princess or a hippie.

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