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Halloween: I used to hate it; now I’m for it (sort of… kind of… not really, but… oh, let me explain…)
Right up until midday 31 October last year, I hated Halloween. I could not have been more resentful, bitter and loudly oppositional about it. I hated the crassness of it, the fake spider webs dangling from shop doorways, the sales kids dressed up in witches outfits, the pumpkins and goblin masks. I took particular offence to the notion of trick-or-treating and, especially, to the ghoulishness of it all. I hated the glorified meaninglessness of the commercial machine and the seemingly stubborn inevitableness that all this craziness was well and truly here to stay. Like, forever.
At that time, my son was two-and-a-half years old. Years and years of Halloween horrors loomed ahead of me. It wouldn’t be long before he’d be asking to join in, be invited to Halloween parties, with all manner of questionable games and violent costumes (call me crazy, but I don’t actually find it funny to see costumes with knives through skulls or blood and gorge hanging from body parts).
Then a good friend of mine (who doesn’t have children) posted a photo on Facebook, with her decorations of hairy spiders in the tree at the front of her home. She was the last person I expected to participate in something as gimmicky as Halloween. (She loves roses and antique teapots!)
Even her? Was I missing something?
I began to seriously mull over this whole Halloween thing, knowing I was running out of time before I would have to make some clear decision on where I stood and to what extent I was happy for my son to participate (or not). I didn’t even know where Halloween came from, so I hit the internet to find out. It’s a bit of a garbled mix of information out there, but my layperson’s understanding is that it seems to have originally stemmed from a custom of honouring the spirits of those who had passed over (on a night called All Hallow’s Eve) and transformed in some countries to people dressing up as evil spirits and monsters to make fun of them and show them that they were not afraid of them. And it was that last part that caused me to reassess the whole Halloween thing.
I suddenly got it–Halloween is STORY and STORY is how we make sense of the world. Myths, archetypes, legends, fairy tales, genres, nursery rhymes, poetry, cinema and all other forms of stories give us LANGUAGE to describe what is going on inside us and around us. Halloween, specifically, deals with monsters and scary things. And monsters are real, so it is natural that we would need a language–even a basic child’s language–to talk about them.
My theory goes like this. Monsters are real. There are monstrous people in the world who do terrifying, unthinkable, heinous things to children. There are monstrous dictators that torture and murder entire ethnic cultures on our planet. There are creative monsters in the world who want to smash our dreams, humiliate, bully and belittle us. There are monsters in our mind that tell us we aren’t good enough and undermine our actions and dreams.
The monster characters in books and movies—ghouls, two-headed creatures, slime-covered bottom-dwellers and so on—are simply the symbolic representation of real-life monsters. To deny they exist does a disservice to our children and to ourselves. Something like Halloween, if handled with sensitivity and care, might just be a wonderful opportunity to help children learn to bring monsters out into the light, to talk about their fears and know that as adults we will listen to them.
Obviously, I’m not suggesting we should deliberately go and frighten our children or go out of our way to bring monsters into their psyche. But I am suggesting that maybe we shouldn’t run away from the darkness. Maybe, when they come running to us in fear, saying, “There’s a monster in my room!” we might use that opportunity to say, “Thank you for telling me; I want to help you; I want you to tell me when you’re afraid; I’m here to protect you; let’s see what we can do about that together”, rather than saying “There’s no such thing as monsters”.
Because we all know that’s not true.
I’m still uneasy with Halloween’s crass commercialisation, the gore, and I’m definitely still anti trick-or-treating. But this year, I will be using the opportunity to sensitively (and with an age-appropriate agenda) help my son start to have language and dialogue around things that are dark and scary and assure him that I’m here to stand beside him to defeat the monsters together.