It’s Halloween, the time to celebrate
death. ghosts, goblins, vampires, and zombies. It’s the time you get to be someone or something else.
For me, it’s the holiday when costumed strangers show up uninvited and demand some form of extortion before they go away. Whatever happened to the “tricks” part?
Living as I do in a remote part of Vermont’s Green Mountains, I no longer have these ransom-demanders dressed as Dollar Store ghosts or witches or pop-culture-icons-of-the-moment knocking on my door, interrupting my solitude, and mutely expecting me to contribute to their plastic pumpkin. I’m relieved. I’m also in a distinct minority.
For the record, this was going to be a post on the way Halloween celebrates the porousness of the boundary between life and death. (I would have found a more down-to-earth way to say that) — you know, ghost, goblins, etc. But the more I read, the more I seemed to be the only person who cared. What has come out, instead, seems to be a post on who loves this holiday and (more importantly) why. I certainly never would have guessed.
Who is keeping this holiday alive?
Alive it surely is. A 2012 article in USA Today, Scary! Halloween’s been hijacked by adults, tells us that over 70 percent of adults are now celebrating Halloween each year, though they don’t necessarily go Trick or Treating; they go to parties or parades.
That has only grown in the years since. In a 2017 online article from CNBC, Here’s how much people your age are spending on Halloween, Americans were about to spend $15 billion (BILLION). And it’s the millennials who are leading the charge, spending on average $183 per person compared to $23 per baby boomer.
It’s always been surprising to me that this holiday is so popular, even when my kids were small (especially when they were small). First, I was really terrible at making costumes (I could cut out a pair of eye holes in a sacrificial sheet; that was about it). And then we’d all suffer from the inevitable sugar buzz that followed. My sons limit their children to one piece of candy a day. It gets them practically past Christmas. I never thought!
Fortunately, (I guess) I seem to have not passed my disdain on to my kids. And they both married women who love the holiday. Here’s Jon with his daughters this year. At least I assume that’s Jon.
In my mind, this is similar to my cluelessness on why so many want to get drunk. What is the appeal? I just don’t get it. Or didn’t until I began researching for this post. Hang in there.
But why? What is the appeal? What I’ve learned is not encouraging.
Historian Nicholas Rogers, in his book Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, teaches us how the holiday emerged from the Celtic festival of Samhain, picked up elements of the Christian All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day, arrived in North America as an Irish and Scottish festival, and evolved into an unofficial but large-scale holiday by the early 20th century.
First brought to the US with Irish and Scots immigrants, treats and doorbells were added in the ’30s and ’40, though they weren’t the treats we recognize today. “Coins, nuts, fruit, cookies, cakes, and toys were as likely as candy,” wrote Samira Kawash in “How Candy and Halloween Became Best Friends,” in The Atlantic in 2010. By the 1950s, she tells us, “it had become a night for all children.”
My children were trick or treating in the mid to late 1970s, as the urban legends of razor blades in the apples or rat poison in the Rice Krispy treats were spreading. We soon joined the legions of concerned parents examining each tiny, wrapped candy bar at the end of the night for any signs of tampering.
Historians and sociologists tell us these “murderous halloween” rumors at the time reflected society’s anxiety and fear of strangers. They also tell us that Halloween has long been a holiday embraced particularly by those folks who felt on the fringes of the larger society; the Irish immigrant was only the first example. Children have long been considered less than full citizens and, since the late 1970s, the LBGTQ community has adopted Halloween as particularly well-suited for them.
And now we have the millennials (those now in their 20s and 30s). But why? If the sociologists are right (and I like to think they are; it helps keep my world spinning in the same direction), what do millennials share with Irish immigrants, children, and gays? How do they fit this model of halloween-for-the-outliers?
TheConversation.com says this:Associate Professor of Sociology, Middlebury College, VT in an online blog called
Traditional markers of adult responsibility and independence -– family, career, home ownership –- have either been delayed or abandoned altogether, by choice or necessity. Transitions to adulthood have become uncertain, drawn out and complicated.
Young adults I’ve spoken with often identify this as their favorite part of the holiday -– the chance to be, at least for a night, whatever they wish to be.
They aren’t able, in real life, to be what they wish to be? They feel on the outskirts of the larger society? That, for me bodes ill for the immediate future.
How about you? What’s your take on Halloween?
P.S. A reminder:
Want to help bring an end to the bi-annual jet lag we all suffer? Visit End Daylight Saving Time (yes; that’s my rant for this year).