Every Halloween season brings conflicted emotions to me.
As a child, it was my favorite holiday. I loved dressing up and careening through the neighborhood with my older brother and his friends for hours at night, collecting enormous bags of candy. I would stay up and watch all the creepy horror movies and ghost stories on TV. I would read stories about goblins, witches, demons...anything magical. I even went through a phase of reading exclusively from the "non-fiction" paranormal section of the library, trying to find out if I had psychic powers or the ability to move objects with my mind. Yes, I was weird.
In my defense, my mother never supervised anything I read or watched. That amount of freedom combined with the fact that I could read at an adult level by the 3rd grade led to some interesting choices. I started reading Stephen King novels as soon as I discovered them at age 9. Up until the time I became a Christian, I had read everything he had ever written.
After my conversion, I immediately stopped reading Stephen King and watching occultic horror movies. Nobody told me I had to do that; it just felt right. So much of what was in them was simply counter to what I now believed and celebrated. However, each October would bring the uncertainty of what to do about Halloween. Reject it as the Devil's Playday, or simply participate for the fun and avoid the occultic decor?
That question became more pronounced after I had children. What were we going to do when October 31st rolled around? Well, what new mother could resist dressing up her child in a cute little lion outfit with a furry mane framing his face? That's right! No mother worth her salt could miss a photo op like that.
As the kids have gotten older, we have talked to them about the holiday and steered them from the decapitated head costumes and towards super-hero, or occupational costumes....anything that wasn't directly tied to death and gore. We take them trick-or-treating but avoid houses that have gone over the top with fake blood and dismembered body parts on the lawn.
Yet each year, it becomes harder. It hasn't helped that we live in Florida, relatively close to major theme parks. Starting in September, Busch Gardens and Universal Studios begin promoting their Halloween season. Each year they turn the parks into enormous Haunted Houses, filling the parks with people in elaborate make-up and costumes with the object of scaring the paying customers out of their wits. It's extremely popular and always sparks a competition to see which park will have the most unique, over-the-top, edgy theme. The commercials depict serial killers, bloody knives, monsters emerging from the walls and many more disturbing images. They plaster billboards with these same images and run the commercials every five minutes. They aren't the traditional, fantastical images of Halloween that have no basis in reality, but are more and more based on gory violent acts.
This past week we were in Publix, a large grocery store chain in Florida. Each year they build a little haunted house display for the Halloween candy. It consists of candy boxes and Halloween decorations; bats, witches, ghosts, etc. You can walk through it, pick out some candy and get on with your shopping. It's a clever display strategy.
When we entered the store the kids were immediately drawn to it and wanted to go inside of it. I said OK and they took off while I dragged a grocery cart over to the display. I was shocked when I went inside of it. It was typical of most Halloween spook houses with lots of black, purple and orange colors and pretend spiderwebs hanging from the ceiling. Also hanging from the ceiling was the form of an upside-down human body wrapped in a bloody blanket. ick.
The kids didn't really know what it was supposed to be and I avoided talking about it, but I left thinking about how much Halloween had changed. It slowly seems to be moving more and more away from fantasy and towards disturbing sickness. When I was young, the thought of witches and ghosts, in of themselves, was scary. We didn't worry about what they were actually going to do to us. Maybe they would put a spell on us or makes us their slaves. Now, the threat of vague and undefined scariness has been replaced by specific images of death, dismemberment, and torture.
It's becoming harder and harder to shield the kids from disturbing images during this season.
Am I the only one who feels this way?