If you are a follower of my Twitter or Facebook, then you have no doubts that I love Halloween. Screw Christmas and Thanksgiving, Halloween is, by far, my favorite holiday. I start looking for decorations and craft ideas in June, and I decorate my house in September. Of course, neither of these habits have ever struck me as strange. It was while I was driving to the Spirit of Halloween store a couple of days ago, that I realized how much of a lifestyle Halloween is for me. I would not say that it is abnormal, considering that I am a horror writer and blogger, but it is the same way for a lot of other people. It is a holiday that a majority of Americans celebrate and love, from those who are deemed “normal” in society to the weirdos like me.
It got me wondering why a holiday that idolizes the grotesque appeals to so many people, regardless of age, profession, and sometimes, of religious background.
But, before we get to the meat of it, a little bit of backstory on Halloween is in order. It is a holiday believed to have originated from the Celts. Their new year began on November 1, and they believed that the realms of the living and the dead were blurred on the evening leading up to the new year. This gave rise to the holiday of Samhain. Because the Celts feared that the spirits would do harm to their crops as they wandered the earth, and they wore costumes to scare the spirits away. The Celts also conducted animal sacrifices and built large bonfires in order to honor their gods (from History.com).
While we do not generally conduct animal sacrifices these days (hopefully), it is easy to see the correlation between modern Halloween and Samhain. Yet, a distinct purpose was served by the celebration of Samhain, while our modern interpretation differs wildly. The emphasis not only is on costumes and treats, but on death and disgust.
In an article by the Daily Mail, Daniel Kelly, associate professor of philosophy at Purdue University, explains why he thinks so many people love the holiday. He believes that Halloween is so popular because “people can experience a good scare without being at risk of real danger.” He compares the enjoyment of Halloween with the popularity of other disgusting and odd things that people are fascinated with, such as “pimple-popping videos, and…horror movies, haunted houses, and other Halloween traditions.”
It is easy to see how this reasoning correlates with why we enjoy scary movies so much. Horror movies allow us to explore our deep-seated fascination with death and the grotesque in a socially-acceptable way (see my article, “The Psychology of Scary,” for more details). In that way, Halloween allows us to do the same thing. We can dress as creepily as we want, and watch as many gory movies as we can, and nobody is going to say a thing. It is almost a social expectation to do this, which enables people, who otherwise might not let their horror-freak flags fly, to allow themselves to be engrossed with the what society would normally deem as weird and unacceptable.
However, I want to take this a step further. While the article does make a good point, I don’t think that people’s love of the holiday can be summed up so easily. While I don’t have any scientific data to back it up, I think the love of Halloween far extends beyond the human fascination with disgust. Some of these are a love to party, enjoying dressing up, having an excuse to binge-watch horror movies, enjoying lots of desserts, or just enjoying fall-time in general, with the promise of long nights, pumpkin spice and sweaters. But, on a larger scale, I think that Halloween also gives us the chance to explore the universal aspect of humanity that we all are aware of, but seldom admit to ourselves: the reality of death. Everyone is touched by it, to some degree. And perhaps, Halloween is is a way for our human psyches to cope with this reality by making fun out of it.
Either way, I don’t believe that the human mind’s fascination with disgust is the only thing that makes people enjoy Halloween. People are too beautifully confused and complex to be summed up with one single attribution. Perhaps it is a combination of things that leads us to love this unique and mysterious holiday. But no matter what the scientists say, I will always enjoy Halloween to the fullest.
Why do you like Halloween, splatter lovers? Let me know in the comments below!