Amongst my friends, there is a handful of people who do not like Halloween. That’s fine; I don’t like Valentine’s Day. I won’t claim that I understand their aversion, though; I’m afraid that, despite my best efforts not to judge, the word “humbug!” leaps frequently to mind! Then again, I suppose I’m frightfully biased. Halloween is my second favorite holiday, behind Christmas, and it’s hard for me to imagine not finding pleasure in such a festive holiday.
While there are parts of the contemporary Halloween scene that I don’t care for — overly grotesque decorations (who needs crawly demon babies? blech) and ridiculously slutty costumes come to mind — I really enjoy the heck out of October 31, and always have. I love the way that everyone re-embraces their childhood, whether by celebrating or by helping their children celebrate. I love the spiderwebs and witch cauldrons, the fake headstones and plastic fangs. (My go-to favorite costume accessory is a set of petite werewolf fangs.) I love pumpkins, although I don’t care for their guts, and candy corn, and (the idea of) caramel apples. I love that buzzy feeling just on the hilarious side of scared that you get hanging out with friends at a haunted house or dark corn maze.
Most of all, I love taking a day out of the year to pretend to be someone else, or a different version of oneself. I’m not necessarily talking about the “Hey look, I’m a trampy cowgirl/nurse/alien!” costumes (although I suppose it’s the same concept, for that sort of girl) or the joke costumes (“Hey look, I’m a banana/iPhone/enormous phallus!”). Instead, it’s that assumption of a different persona: the brooding vampire, the elegant princess, the valiant superhero, the jovial clown. My favorite thing about Halloween is that it gives us permission to play make-believe for a few hours, to explore what it would be like if we had the life of one of the people or creatures from our books, movies, and imaginations.
Today I’m a witch, complete with striped stockings (that are driving me crazy), petite pointed hat, shoes that pinch, and — because it’s the end of 4th hour — a witchy look on my face. Being a witch is a pleasant combination of entertainingly questionable fashion, implied power/danger, and a license to be just a little bit nasty. Even though my freshmen very pointedly ignored the fact that their English teacher was dressed like a witch, it is a great relief to my blood pressure to imagine myself turning a few of them into toads for a few minutes. (I wouldn’t leave them that way. I’m not that kind of witch.)
Once upon a time, my head lived in a different world than the rest of my body. People who knew me in middle school might not easily reconcile the relatively mundane adult Kate with the girl who so thoroughly embraced the fantastic. I packed that person away when I went to college, put her in a box with the My Little Ponys and size 7 jeans, and stuffed her in the back of a closet.
It’s not that she doesn’t exist anymore — I have always been, and will always be, a dreamer. (That’s, as far as I can tell, the lot in life for a writer and voracious reader.) I am, as always, a person whose inner life is really a great number of inner lives — as Whitman said, I contain multitudes. I am a suburban schoolteacher with a boring wardrobe who wears comfortable shoes and drives a hatchback. But I am other things, too. Some people play WoW or watch soap operas or read celebrity fashion magazines. If my fantasies involve more swords and fewer high heels — well, what’s wrong with that?
But I don’t act on it anymore. I know there are opportunities for adults to “play make-believe” but that hasn’t really been something that has fit into my life so far, and for the most part, I’m completely okay with that. Yes, I look at the pictures Jessica posts of her amazing outfits that she wears to Los Angeles goth clubs and masquerade balls, or the photos of Jen’s awesome portrayals of characters from shows, books, and games that she makes for cosplay conventions and parties, and my “that would be fun” radar pings. I have a full life, though, and one that doesn’t really leave a lot of time for clubs and conventions. I’m sure I could make the time, but Little Miss Introvert over here is really just as happy on the couch in sweatpants.
Halloween is a time when I can pull that dusty box out of the back of the closet and let my twelve-year-old self out to play again. That’s why I dress up on Halloween, and on the school spirit days. It’s a special occasion, a day when I can say, “To heck with normalcy! Today, I am going to be silly. Today, I am going to indulge a bit of fantasy. Today, I am going to be a different me.”
And in response to those who might argue that students shouldn’t dress up at school for Halloween (and I’m specifically thinking of older kids here), I have to ask: should we cancel all spirit days as well? What’s the difference, except that one celebrates the athletic aristocracy and the other feels like something that belongs to the “freaks and geeks” too? I know there are religious arguments against Halloween, and hey, if your religion teaches you that dressing up on October 31 is a form of devil worship, well, you’re welcome to it. Personally, I think saying that Halloween is a religious (or anti-religious) holiday is about as silly as saying the same about Valentine’s Day — sure, it was once, but now it’s entirely secular and “just for fun.”
I’m 32 years old and about to be a mama. I don’t need the full Halloween experience right now — I’ve got a few years before I get to go trick-or-treating again. You can keep your candy; you can keep your scary movies… but as long as it’s made out of stretchy fabric, don’t you dare take away my costume. 🙂