Vol 7, Num 19 :: 2008.10.24 — 2008.11.07
I no longer celebrate Halloween. This is not because of the pagan pageantry, though I do find the day-of-the-dead grotesqueries upsetting. No, the story of why I do not anymore mark October 31st is largely the story of a bunny-and it is in many ways the story of why I no longer celebrate many things.
There are, in fact, many things I love about Halloween. I like the harvest aspect of the holiday. Living in the northeastern U.S., autumn is a season of glory, and the harvest is a very real event. I love the bite that works its way into the air of October, air that always seems to smell of woodsmoke and rightful decay. It seems an excellent idea to celebrate this time of change, of flaming foliage and the feeling of sepia.
I also love that unfortunately christened staple of Halloween: trick-or-treating. In the heritage of my Pennsylvania Dutch mother, the practice of undercover door-to-door candy solicitation is known as bellsnickling, and that’s how I prefer to think of it. There are no tricks involved; the focus is not on the treats but on the “snickling” of your neighbour’s doorbells.
As a country boy, bellsnickling never had a sinister element, no matter how many city-run scare-ads innundated our fun. Not only did I know ever single person in the village, most of them were my aunts and uncles. I have never enjoyed candy, but I always enjoyed the thrill of dressing up and snickling those bells. In our New World traditions, what other day encourages us to visit all of our neighbours in one night?
And then there was that dressing up! As an actor, I admit that it was my favourite part. I thoroughly enjoyed the creative oneupmanship of the unexpected, and yet perfect, costume. There was always a convivial contest of imagination that surrounded these homemade wonders and a good deal of old-fashioned work involved in bringing the dream to life.
Unfortunately, not everyone shared this constructive ethos of construction. My first hint of Halloween’s death came in elementary school, when the boy who sat in front of me wore a cheap, purchased T-shirt that featured a realistic and three-dimensional gut wound. I can still vividly call to mind the rubber ribs sticking out of his abdomen like sauce-dipped macaroni.
The sight of that shirt then, as today, made my own stomach feel wounded. In a room of giant sneakers, Mongol emperors and murdering butlers, it was a blunt instrument of disgust, disdain and distaste. I was haunted by it all day, and when I reached my refuge of home, my mother has prepared my favourite meal: macaroni and cheese. The tiny, unfeeling ribs pritruded from my meal like so many succubi, and something small drained out of my own gaping wound.
The year that bellsnickling was killed by trick-or-treating, the murder weapon was another of my favourite seasonal totems: the jack-o-lantern. Just like our Halloween costumes, pumpkin carving was an art of pure imagination and family-time labor.
That year, seeking to stretch the medium, I decided to carve a bunny-o-lantern, complete with full ears that leapt upright from the top of the pumpkin like declarations of independance from the limits of the gourd’s fleshy sphere. I would not be the woman in the nursery rhyme, imprisoned in a carved-out pumpkin, unable to reach beyond its bounds.
Alright, the overblown dimestore philosophy may have been somewhat inchoate at the time and secondary to spectacle of an adorable rabbit with unexpected ears. What I am sure of, though, was that I poured more than a pumkin-full of myself into that bunny-o-lantern. It was formed from my own joy, enthusiasm and imagination. I took great care in its creation, and when I set the finished product on my porch and watched it shine, that inner light was my own.
I looked at that pumpkin and saw that it was good.
Throughout the night, I would scamper out onto the porch to catch a hit of joy from my proudly glowing creation. And it bolstered my spirit and allowed me a glimpse of God’s heart for his creatures-silly perhaps, but true.
But I ended up understanding a little too much of God’s love. It is not love for the perfectly formed and perfectly lit. It is love for that perfection broken.
The end of this story was probably obvious to you the minute I mentioned a pumpkin, but to my prepubescent self, it was the blindside of the century. And I learned something that night that I only realized this autumn as I drove past the pulpy remains of some child’s Adam. I learned not to fully invest myself in anything again. I learned that joy extended was joy destroyed. I learned that the world is broken and that my efforts to light a bunny of hope were not desired.
It seems pitiful to admit at 28 years old, but everytime the air starts to bite and the hills bring out their flags, there is a gaping wound in my gut, a pumpkin-bunny-shaped hole that marks my passage into adulthood.
But, of course, the whole is not that dark. In high school, my youth group friends and I would dress up and make the rounds singing songs and giving candy to those whose bells we rung. It was a reversal of tradition that yet again sought to bring light into the world through creativity and community. But that hole has not yet been filled. I still recoil from placing too much of myself in anything for fear of it being casually destroyed. That is what Halloween means to me. And that is why I find it hard to celebrate.