I don’t want to sound like a Scrooge, but I really was not feeling Halloween this year. I want to automatically blame my depressive episode for this, but it’s really a party-sized, variety pack full of reasons. Now that it’s over, I can’t say I look forward to a better one next year — which may be the first time I’ve felt this way.
But as I observe the decimated aisles at Party City, the destructive substance abuse that has replaced trick-or-treating for multiple generations, the need to push the envelope in regard to horror movies and attractions, I come to understand this holiday as a compulsive, consumerist need, a superficial celebration of terror and pain. And I question whether these celebrations bring anything but materialist joy to our dreary lives.
Growing up with a mostly non-practicing, but stubbornly fixated, Jehovah’s Witness father and a highly paranoid, Catholic-raised mother meant that my sisters and I never, and I mean not once, went trick-or-treating. Which, of course, meant we never had costumes (I doubt we could have afforded them anyway).
I’ve never been to a pumpkin patch, much less carved a pumpkin, and the few Halloween parties I attended as a young adult were just like any other boring party, but with bad costumes (now the sugar’s in the alcohol, and it makes your stomach even sicker).
A decade and a half ago around Halloween, my mother picked us up from school. It was raining. The streets were empty, everything was gray. She took my sister and I to Jack in the Box, and we got our chicken strip meals in these cute little trick-or-treat buckets. They were probably designed with images from Scooby Doo or Casper, and the sheen on the orange and purple plastic made me feel animated, like I was my own little cartoon character with agency and a bucket full of candy. I imagined l lived in one of those crisp middle class neighborhoods, dressed as a little ghost in Egyptian cotton sheets, or a mummy wrapped in Charmin Ultra Soft.
That may be my best Halloween memory, and it was all fantasy.
Listen, this isn’t a sob story — I never shed a tear (maybe a crocodile tear) over my family’s lack of Halloween festivities. But I spent a lot of my juvenile time wondering what demon had dealt me this unfair card, that all I could do come October was read a stupid Goosebumps book, maybe eat a single full-sized Twix and dream about future Halloweens to come.
Sure, I’m bitter, but when I was finally able to go trick-or-treating (five years ago, my first year of college), I got a mouth full of cavities. Now, my peers buy Halloween-themed bath bombs, wine, phone cases — you name it, and it’s got a f****** pumpkin on it.
The edgy Disney fans plan their schedules around Mickey and Minnie’s Overpriced Bumpkin Carnival. Everyone who was or is into punk, ska, psychobilly, underground, swears they feel more alive in the name of getting s**t-wasted in bars and backyards, coughing up tens and twenties for whatever they can get their hands on: acid, shrooms, coke, molly, bud — whatever it takes so they can have a twisted day to forget about their real problems for a little nostalgic fun. And I can’t help but wonder: why the f*** are we still giving into this middle-class, consumerist holiday?
I know we can probably make this argument about every holiday, from Christmas to our own birthdays (and this isn’t just my Jehovah’s Witness father speaking). I don’t doubt that plenty of people are more critical of modern interpretations of holidays: we know people suffer during Thanksgiving and Christmas; we know there are moms without children and children without moms on Mother’s Day; I think Columbus Day is now more popularly accepted as Indigenous Peoples day. But why has Halloween been reclaimed as an unproblematized day of theatrical fun?
How many of us romanticize Halloween in an effort to turn our fantasies into material realities, and what is (if there is any) the cultural worth of these consumptive celebrations? If, in fact, Halloween is supposed to be a time to laugh in the face of our deep-seeded fears, to forget about the terror of real life — of rent and bills and student loans (a time of climate change, health care bills and refugees) — I’m not sure that we can reconcile poverty and suffering in selfish and indulgent, materialist ways.