Though September, it's still officially summer, thought there's a worrisome chill in the breeze. But at my neighborhood CVS, there's something even more chilling -- the annual Halloween displays.
Now I'm not one of those evangelical party-poopers who think Halloween invites demons and who keep their porch lights pointedly turned off to deter treat-or-treaters. But I have to wonder just why I have to be treated to life-sized figures of ghouls and dead pirates (complete with pe leg and skeletal parrot) when I run in to the drug store to pick up my allergy meds. Not to mention the aisles of candy, greeting cards, plastic pumpkins, witchy door decor, costumes, pumpkin carving kits and painted foam tombstones.
If I didn't already hate the holiday, the ridiculous excess would push me there fast!
The expense of time and money on Halloween just puzzles me. In ages past, when death and physical decay were fairly easy to encounter, I could imagine folks being obsessed with the subject, to the point of wanting to court it to make it less powerful. If, on a stroll around town, you might see a hanging or a decapitation, you might be forgiven if you were put off by the experience. If your family lost every second kid to disease, you might be excused from spending your days in mourning, repelled by the thought of a loved one being devoured in the grave.
But today, who encounters death? Our elders are whisked away to nursing homes before decrepitude really sets in. They are kept alive by our marvelous, if expensive, medical system. By the time someone dies, they have been psychologically absent for so long that they seem dead to us already. Then they are primped up, propped up and made up so that they are tolerable to look at. And no unsightly blemishes, embarrassing stains or repellent odors! Death is very nicely packaged and sanitized. Cremation makes the process even more palatable. There's no body to encounter at all -- just a small and tasteful vase to hold the 4-6 pounds of dehydrated minerals that once were our bones, tissues and blood.
So what's with the attraction of bona fide grownups who slather on makeup, slip on prosthetic old man hands and vampire teeth, and don the slutty/scary/ironic costumes?
No idea. Which is a big part of why I hate Halloween. What's the purpose of hobnobbing with death and decay when those subjects are a) furthest from your mind and b) practically impossible to encounter in regular life? Our vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have staggering rates of PTSD. The VA estimates that 11-20% have the debility. You have to wonder whether some part of this problem (not to mention PTSD's ghastly companion, veteran suicide) is due to how little blood, gore and mayhem most of us normally see. 100 years ago, before refrigeration, you'd see a live cow walk into a neighborhood butcher's yard, be slaughtered on the premises and soon hung out for sale. Today, it wouldn't surprise me that some people have no real clue that their steaks and fillets once festooned a live, cackling/lowing/swimming/masticating animal.
Which brings me back to Halloween. With no psychic traumas to work out through role play and no real experience with death, the celebration seems completely bereft of purpose.
Save me your fake spider webs, low-cut witch outfits, spooky candles and zombie masks. Me? I'm settling in for a book on American history (which has the benefit of being both scary and real), a nice cup of hot cider and a hot cider doughnut. If the prospect of running my cholesterol levels off the chart doesn't scare me, then nothing will.