(Image via Pixabay)
I wasn’t going to start telling Halloween stories until October, but heck. It’s more than halfway through September. The shops are all already stocked with costumes and decorations. You can buy pumpkins at the garden center now. Some houses on my block already have orange lights and scarecrows. Yesterday Rosie and I went grocery shopping and spent ten minutes in the seasonal aisle, trying on hats and masks. I’ll tell my first Halloween story starting now.
I am one of those irritating gals who loves Autumn for most of the usual reasons: cool weather, cozy sweaters, pumpkins and autumn leaves. I don’t actually like pumpkin spice lattes very much, but the pumpkin spice marshmallows at Aldi are tasty. And Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I love costumes; I wish every holiday was commemorated by being in costume. Life is better with costumes. I love candy. I love going out for walks after dark. Even more than all of that, I recognize that every culture needs a day to commemorate that death is spooky.
Death is spooky, after all. It’s a mystery we can’t comprehend. Even the Son of God feared death, when it was immanent, and prayed to be spared if it was the Father’s will. Yes, our faith transforms the meaning of death with the Good News of the resurrection, but I don’t see how we’ll be fully able to recognize that good news if we don’t first get down to brass tacks and admit that death is spooky. Things coming back from the dead to haunt the living are spooky too. We know we have the Communion of Saints as our friends, so we don’t need to be scared, but prior to that knowledge and reassurance we’re all spooked by spirits. Best to admit it. And admitting that death and ghosts are spooky through a public spectacle with candy and treats is a great way to do it. We all fear specters. Get the fear out in the open. Decorate your lawn with them. Put a sheet over your head and go “WOOOOOOOOOOO.” It’s cleansing.
Now, that said, I never actually got to put a sheet over my head and go “WOOOOOOO” for Halloween as a child. I grew up on the Planet Charismatic. At first, that just meant I wasn’t allowed to have scary costumes, but only to dress as a nurse or a cat or something. Then things got weird. The paranoia espoused by my particular community devoured all the fun out of this venerable old holiday, and the replacements were scarier than any ghost.
One year, I came home from school to hear my mother say that we weren’t carving faces on pumpkins this year. We could carve geometric holes in pumpkins, but we weren’t allowed to carve a face on a Jack ‘O Lantern.
“You see,” said my mother, “I was told by such-and-such that last year, real witches showed up at her house at Halloween. They said that in their religion, a face on a pumpkin was a sign that witches were welcome.”
I don’t remember which Charismatic told my mother about the witches showing up at her door; probably the same one who witnessed the levitating plate.
My mother was not going to take the risk that any witches living in our neighborhood would feel welcome, not while we lived on the Planet Charismatic. She was terrified of witches, as she had been taught to be by the Charismatic Community. We weren’t allowed to watch Bedknobs and Broomsticks or that anime involving Kiki the Witch. A pious maiden lady of the Charismatic Community had staged a public protest against a local public school when she heard they were reading Roald Dahl’s The Witches aloud in class. Witches, we all believed, worshiped the devil. Any contact with a witch would put you at risk for a bad case of demonic possession, and then you’d have to be prayed over. Jack O’Lanterns were a contamination risk.
We did not carve regular Jack O’Lanterns that year. We carved holes in pumpkins, and covered them with colored wax paper to make an interesting stained glass effect. It was actually pretty cool-looking and a fun art project. Then, my mother broke it to us about our costumes.