a spirit not of fear

Today is my favourite holiday, and I mean that sincerely. I’ve always loved Halloween and have looked forward to it for as long as I can remember. Carving pumpkins, putting up spooky decorations, searching for the best costume I could find (and we could afford), walking around the neighbourhood collecting candy, haunted houses, watching and laughing at terrible horror films marathoning on AMC, scaring children…so many of life’s greatest joys spread across the month of October and culminating in its final day.

I get a lot of pushback in Christian circles for my love of Halloween, and I understand why. Though Halloween as it exists today is a product of and is heavily influenced by Christian tradition, some of the practices associated with it, such as the carving of jack-o-lanterns, find their roots in ancient pagan customs. Where it differs from other Christian celebrations that usurp pagan holidays and traditions (Christmas trees, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the word “Easter” is literally derived from the name of an ancient Germanic goddess) is that it doesn’t directly incorporate reflection on any aspect of Jesus’ life and ministry; rather, it finds its roots in the commemoration of the dead in Christ and prayer for souls yet in Purgatory. Pair that with a very up-front stance on macabre imagery and a Protestant-influenced America that’s allowed the original intention of All Hallow’s Eve to drift far from memory, and you’ve got a recipe for a holiday that looks suspiciously like corporate devil worship.

But I’m not here to bring us all back to “the true meaning of Halloween.” Frankly, I don’t care all that much about the history of the holiday, as I feel it has extremely limited bearing on how it’s understood now. It’s what it is today that I love and care deeply about, and I believe it has an immensely valuable place in not only societal tradition but in Christian tradition in particular.

The thing that’s so immediately striking about Halloween to me is how subversive it is. Most holiday decorations involve festive ornaments meant to communicate warmth and joy in conjunction with the season, but for Halloween we dig deep into the untouchables of the human experience and put them on display. Effigies of witches, hanging corpses, creepy-crawlies, and all of the boogeymen of human history take their place on suburban front lawns. And it’s not just cartoonish, children’s television versions of such monstrosities – there’s an absurdity to not only how grotesque Halloween adornments can get but to the social acceptance of their exhibition during the month of October. I can walk into a department store and find dismembered arms stained with blood and bits of ripped muscle and bone sticking out across from the sporting goods or pop tarts. I love this, this eagerness to present death and darkness in all its horrors in our homes. Perhaps my depressive inclinations makes me more comfortable with it all, but it’s the sheer irreverence of it that makes me smile.

See, while critics declare this to be a celebration of evil, I see it as just the opposite. We’re facing our deepest fears, our darkest enemies, and we’re defying them by giving them manifestation in our safest places. We dress up as them to get candy and treats. We carve their shapes into vegetables and let them rot on our front porches. We create amusements based around them and laugh in their faces. Halloween is not a glorification of evil, but a mockery of it in the vein of Elijah’s defiance of the prophets of Baal. On Halloween, we do not give the devil a foothold, but we vociferously declare that not only does he have no power here, but we will derive fun at his and all of his minions’ expense. Halloween is not the empowerment of fear but a proclamation that we have been given a Spirit of power that will never succumb.

I think there’s something wonderful about an entire culture together directly addressing the darker side of the human experience, leaving it out in the open instead of hiding it and pretending it’s not there. The fact that we have almost a month dedicated to it is special and important, and it gives us an annual opportunity to discuss the things that hurt us, hold us back. In a way, I’d say that we as artists have a responsibility to seize this time and contribute to it, whether that’s through no-holds-barred horror or the simple taunting of horror itself. Join us as we make light of death and darkness and remind it and ourselves that it has been overcome – we need never be afraid again.

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