13 Oct 07

This afternoon I dug through the closet beneath the stairs, wiped a layer of dust off a large tin, and hauled it upstairs. I popped open the lid and pulled out my Halloween decorations.

Since I try to pack and live light, I only own a few items that I scatter around on Halloween. I have two china Jack O’Lanterns that hold votive candles. There’s a great scultpure of a boy nervously holding a Jack O’Lantern on a stake while a cape billows around him. I bought a large black Halloween Tree this year, too. Plus there are the spider webs.

You can probably tell that I’m not hugely enthused by all this. I love Halloween, but I spent an hour or so skimming through Halloween websites looking for decoration ideas (particularly yard ideas).

There’s a trend. I kept coming across phrases like “spooktacular” and “creepy fun” and “ghoulish delight.”


Folks are trying to make Halloween mundane and plastic. I get the feeling that they want Halloween to be handing out candy to toddlers in princess costumes holding plastic orange Jack O’Lantern buckets, and that’s it. Maybe a cardboard skeleton on your door. Pardon, a “spooktacular” cardboard skeleton.

I see it in the Frankenestein’s monster cut-outs that make him look goofy and cartoony. In the witches that look like church ladies wearing frumpy black dresses. In the removal of the weird in favor of the cliché–ever notice the ubiquity of the safe, abstract Jack O’Lantern? When did any merchant last mention that it held a piece of Hell?

Halloween’s not plastic. It’s not delightful. It’s not even fun, in the way that it’s often used.

Halloween is a celebration of the fantastic, of that which lies beyond, of the other. It’s a tacit acknowledgment of things beyond our understanding. It is our Rational Age’s last glimmer of awe at the boundless possibilities that exist outside humanity’s little finite laws and models.

Nor should Halloween be a blood-soaked carnival of gore and entrails. That’s missing it in a different direction.

Halloween is unsettling. It’s spooky. It’s a time to feel what it’s like to fall from the top of the food chain.

And so, I put out my decorations, and I resolve to be unsettling this year.

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