Before you think that I am anti-Halloween because of the ideas expressed below, I want to say that Halloween is actually my very favorite holiday. I love the community feeling of the night, of children scampering off in sweet costumes knocking on the doors of their neighbors and being treated with candy. It’s a holiday I celebrate with friends and family every year gathered around a bonfire in the front yard, eating chili and sharing coffee with the weary parents that come by. It’s special, festive, and magical to celebrate with friends and strangers by the light of a fire.
But my Disney-esque version of Halloween varies dramatically from the mainstream that I see sold in the “party” stores every year. Merchandisers take this time of year to embellish, grotesquely mock, and even glorify the brutal death. It’s a strange time of year when you work in the funeral profession and tragedies that you know have actually happened to people are depicted in costumes and decorations that are light-heartedly thrown up and shoved insensitively into peoples’ faces.
Halloween opens up places for death imagery to be everywhere and it is always characterized as terrifying. Places like Knott’s Scary Farm profit off of the voyeuristic and morbid curiosity we have for violent death (and don’t even get me started on shows that have any combination of the letters “N, C, I, or S” in the title bringing death like this into your home and life every night).
Growing up, there was a house in my neighborhood that decorated for Halloween by hanging dummies from nooses on a huge tree in their front yard. The house decorations were visible from the main street and I remember as a child driving by feeling the darkness and fright of those images. Now, I’m not bashing skeleton decorations (of which I have a few), or even the fun in being frightened; I enjoy a good creepy movie and the occasional evening (or week) of binge-watching X-Files episodes, but I wouldn’t hang a dummy from a noose in front of my house. Ever.
When I think back on those dummies hanging from the tree, I wonder if there were people who drove by that house who had experienced a death where someone they cared about died by suicide using a rope. There’s trauma, very serious trauma with deaths like these and having that kind of horrific imagery brought back to you in a moment when you’re not expecting it can be startling and devastating.
For people in this tragic group, I wonder what it must be like to see their tragedy mocked and used as a decoration? What pain is brought up for people who have actually had these violent visuals or scenarios played out in front of them? What is it like to have your pain put up to be gawked at? The naive and cold insensitivity of decorations like these frustrates me. I don’t believe anyone would want to inflict pain like that and I seriously doubt our neighbors gave it any thought, but why do we take it there as a society? Why do we permit these extreme tragedies to become vehicles of theater and laughter?
For a culture terrified of talking about death, we seem to have a need to remain afraid and exposed to the spectacle of it.
Not only that, we go so far as to deny the finality of it in our horror fantasies of mummies, zombies, and the hands reaching out of the grave into the air. We resurrect our dead only to make them monsters that chase and harm us instead of comfort us.
All of this to say, our society has some bizarre and inappropriate views of what can be paraded out in the public. I want to encourage an awareness of the death imagery that you decorate with and urge a consideration of the impact that violent images can have on real, suffering people. Death should be viewed more seriously and carefully than this and I think it’s a mistake and a danger to make our Halloween celebrations about horror and fear instead of life, community and play.
Wishing you a Happy and Safe Halloween!