Halloween has become a big ‘holiday celebration’ in Canada.  Hollie Shaw writes; “Canadians have become so wild about Halloween we now spend more per capita on costumes, candy and décor than our U.S. counterparts do, with holiday-related spending that is second only to Christmas.”  (Financial Post,  October 25, 2014) Why?

Is it more than just ‘good fun’?  What does Halloween craziness say about us as a society?

Some claim that our fascination with Halloween is escapist.  In the US, Stephanie Skordas writes:

But why, during these tough times, are consumers willing to spend so much money on costumes they will use only one night? Wake Forest University English professor Eric Wilson, author of Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck, says it is because we have a natural fascination with the macabre. He says, aside from the obvious reasons that we just want a night of fun or love a big costume party, there are deeper reasons for the spending spree and our intense interest in vampires and zombies.

  • The harder the times, the more intense the desire to escape. “What is Halloween but a night we can pretend to be someone else, setting aside our worries or regrets,” Wilson says. “But when we remove the mask the next day, reality shuffles back into our lives like a relentless zombie. That’s true terror.”

The perverse pleasure of celebrating death and destruction. “There is a true joy to Halloween, the ecstasy of transforming into another creature,” Wilson says. “But in a time of financial crisis, when many are forced to face their limitations and mortality in unpleasant ways, it makes sense that Americans would be enchanted by dressing up as dead things, zombies and vampires and such.”

(Media Advisory: Halloween spending hikes reveal our fascination with the macabre, Wake Forest University,  Oct 8, 2012)

For the Canadian situation, Andre Mayer of the CBC news citing, Lesley Pratt Bannatyne, author of Halloween Nation: Behind the Scenes of America’s Fright Night writes:  “While horror entertainment seems to drive the fascination with bloody imagery, Bannatyne says the trend also reflects a general desensitization to violence in light of post-9/11 conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, footage of which can be readily viewed on the internet.”    Halloween and our  increasing fascination with it shows a darker side to our social reality.

Langley Advance outlines an argument by Trinity Western University professor, Dr. Philip Laird;

“What Halloween provides to the individual is an opportunity to explore the dark side, the arousing side, or the fearful side of life in a socially acceptable environment,” Laird said.

“They are almost contradictory parts – you are exploring a part of your personality that at any other time of the year would be viewed as wrong, and yet for this one time of the year it’s acceptable and so people have an opportunity to expose themselves to things, to feel certain things, to get afraid on purpose, and to make other people afraid on purpose. That’s why Halloween draws people in,”

The dark side of this seemingly innocuous fun can take a wrong direction quickly;

Where Halloween goes bad is when there is depersonalization and the fear or the imposition of fear on others can be taken too far,”  . . .

“If we take people and strip them of their human qualities by putting them in a ghost costume, for example, they are no longer recognizable publically as themselves. They then can easily impose fear on someone else. There are a lot of people that will go beyond the socially acceptable limits during Halloween.”

While most consumers will only experience a belly ache or two after consuming copious amounts of candy, Halloween does have a negative side, Laird said.

Every year there is an increase in vandalism and drunkenness.

(TWU experts weigh in on Halloween horrors, Langley Advance, October 28, 2008)

Halloween seems to becoming a time for adults to act like children, playing out their deeper fears about death and violence.  Does this really help?  Children are being crowded out of Halloween to make room for immature adults who can’t seem to deal with one of life’s ultimate realities.     From a religious perspective it has been noted that our society doesn’t deal well with death.  The Catholic Register writes;

Death must be thought about, but it cannot dominate one’s thinking. The ambient culture makes both mistakes. There is the transformation of funeral rituals from occasions to mourn the dead into occasions of pretending that they haven’t died. The funeral has been replaced in many places by a sort of retirement dinner, featuring sentimental and silly stories, only lacking sincere best wishes for the future. On the other hand, popular culture — which is rarely restrained or modest — has a certain fixation with death.

(Our fascination with death,  Catholic Register, October 31, 2013)

When a society celebrates escaping into fantasy in order to avoid reality, it declines.  The decline of faith is a major factor in the increase of escapism and superstition.  Denyse O’Leary argues that ‘if people stop believing in God, they still have to believe in something’.   O’Leary advances a good case for the idea that a solid faith in God provides a decreased susceptibility to believing infantile and superstitious nonsense; “One explanation may be found in a detailed survey undertaken by Baylor University (2007–8), which reported that traditional Christianity sharply decreases credulity about dreams, Bigfoot, UFOs, haunted houses, communicating with the dead and astrology.”  (Denyse O’Leary, Decline in belief in God masks rise in superstition, 2 January 2014)

How sad that we Canadians as  adults are opting to spend 1 billion dollars  on Halloween because we are insecure, childish and seek to escape from reality rather than deal with it.  That money if applied to education, housing or hospitals  could do far more good but that’s an adult thought.  An ancient writer in a in a book few read anymore, describes what is happening; “Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint . . . ” (Proverbs 29:18).