The Spooky Rise Of Halloween

kellepics (CC0), Pixabay

It’s Halloween in America, and there’s a lot of excitement in the air. What are your plans for the evening? Me, I’ll be home, waiting to hand out candy to any young trick-or-treaters who drop by in their cute little costumes. And between rings of the doorbell, I’ll be watching my favorite Halloween ghost movie: Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

You may recall that “A Christmas Carol” is indeed a ghost story… but I’ll bet most people watch the movie only at Christmas time. I prefer to use the film to remind myself to keep Halloween in its proper place – as a fun, spooky holiday for kids – and to keep Christmas on top as my personal favorite holiday.

I know I’m bucking the trend, here. Halloween is fast eclipsing Christmas as America’s favorite holiday, if it hasn’t already done so. Recent economic reports say U.S. retailers are bracing for an off-year for Christmas spending… but have hoped to be “saved” by unprecedented spending on Halloween this fall.

If you look around at the society in which we live, you can see the year-round celebration of Halloween, where a generation ago you might’ve seen more year-round observance of Christmas. Never mind that Halloween began as “All Hallows Evening,” later shortened to “Hallow Even” and eventually “Hallowe’en.” November First, “All Saints Day,” was a church holiday, meant to fete the Christian saints who’d passed away… and All Hallows Eve preceded it, the night before, as a solemn religious observance. But over the generations, at least in the U.S., Halloween has come to be about spookiness, fear, and even death. And now, whether it’s the rise of movies and shows like “Twilight” and “Buffy” or the themes found in the most popular books and music, the spooky seems to be much more popular than the inspiring these days.

There’ve been scary movies and slasher flicks for as long as there’ve been movies at all. The early Dracula silent movies were popular, as have been other horror flicks from “The Exorcist” to “The Blair Witch Project” and every cinematic blood-bath in between. But scary movies used to be a little more seasonal than they are these days. The truly inspiring movies – especially if there’s any hint of Christianity in their scripts – seem to have dropped off, more than a bit. And Hollywood – as well as TV producers and book publishers – can’t crank out slashers fast enough.

People my folks’ age loved “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “Miracle On 34th Street.” People my kids’ age love “Interview With The Vampire” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” And I find the cultural trend a little disturbing. After all, Christmas is about birth… Halloween’s about death. Christmas is hope… Haloween is fear. Christmas is about celebrating the arrival of mankind’s savior, and about the promise of blissful eternal life… the “Halloween generation” does seem to believe in eternal life, but only for vampires, and only the kind of endless existence that doesn’t seem much like life at all – and certainly doesn’t sound very happy.

Even the way we encourage our kids to celebrate these holidays has tilted more toward Halloween’s type of “spirit.” When I was a kid, Halloween was about fleecing the neighborhood for as much candy as possible, and then finding a way to jam it down my gullet before my folks could intercept it (ostensibly for reasons of my health, but probably for reasons of their own sweet-tooth cravings). Christmas was at least to some extent about giving gifts… but increasingly, kids seem to view it as a time to receive, just like Halloween.

You used to get what you wanted for Christmas by, at least nominally, “being good.” But you got what you wanted for Halloween by looking bad, and threatening to do bad things. Think about it: which attitude seems to prevail in the society in which we now live – the one run by all those greedy little trick-or-treaters who grew up and got put in charge?

I don’t want to overstate this – I’m not against Halloween. I’m looking forward to seeing some fun little costumes this evening, and I do enjoy spooky movies. I’m just worried that, as a society, we are leaning toward doing more honor to death and dread than to life and love. It’s like America’s just been in a bad, depressed mood for a few years, and our traditional optimism is turning to pessimism. There are still optimists out there, to be sure: the courageous still find it in themselves to start a business, or do volunteer work, or risk their capital to create jobs for others (and to build lasting wealth for themselves and for those around them). I’m certainly aware of the volunteers who’re running the fun haunted houses for kids at schools and fire stations in my community and yours this evening.

All I’m saying is that those volunteers are operating more from something like a “Christmas Spirit” than from the sort of motivations that drive young people to pay new homage to the themes of a meaner type of Halloween these days. So I’ll keep bucking the trend. I’ll keep my optimism, keep my candy-doling generosity, keep my kid-loving sense of holiday joy. And, by Dickens, I’ll keep Halloween in its place – it’s just a warm-up act for a joyous holiday season, with the main event coming in a couple of months.

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