The following is a post that originally appeared on author Benjamin Kane Ethridge’s site. Check out the Bram Stoker Award winner’s work here: http://www.bkethridge.com/WORK.html
THE WAR ON HALLOWEEN
Brad C. Hodson
Imagine it’s the eighties. An overweight only child, one parent dead and the other in prison, sits in front of the television in his laboratory-goggle-sized glasses while a cool autumn breeze kicks up leaves outside. He repositions to put his shadow between the soft orange light sneaking through the window and his television, where the setting sun’s glare might obscure Dracula as he welcomes Jonathan Harker into his home.
The child waits for the sun to set completely. That’s when the fun begins. For this one night every year, he can don a costume, joining the community as he bounds around from house to house, enjoying candy and meeting the neighbors. Halloween is a month-long festival for him, a buildup of movies and TV specials and school decorations that eventually culminates in this one night where the world seems more vivid, more alive, than it ever has. For him, and for most children, Halloween is a highlight of his year.
Flash-forward thirty years. That same kid is now an adult, has lost the weight, and his glasses have been replaced with contact lenses. He has his own family now to replace the one absent him as a child. Yet this one season, this magical mysterious month of October, is still his favorite time of the year. It’s stuck by his side ever since his childhood like a great friend, always there when he needed it.
And people want to take it away from him.
Okay, maybe I’m being melodramatic. The kid, of course, est moi. But it’s true I love Halloween and I do believe that there is an ill-conceived and mean-spirited assault on my favorite holiday.
You hear a lot of overblown hype about the War on Christmas. However, even were it all true, I think Christmas is going to be fine. It’s got a much stronger position and is part of a global cultural phenomenon.
I’m not worried that Halloween is going to disappear, mind you. There will always be Halloween and there will always be people championing it. But what I’ve noticed, year after year, is that Halloween seems to weaken a bit, become diluted. When I was a kid the entire month of October was Halloween-centric. Now it’s been relegated to a short period of time leading up to the holiday itself. Rare are the massive month-long movie marathons on television, the paper Jack-O-Lanterns and ghosts seem fewer and farther between, and Trick-Or-Treat is being replaced with more and more “Fall Festivals.” This gets my inner Mr. Hyde all riled up and ready to roam the streets.
First off, I think anyone in the twenty-first century should have enough logic at their command to realize that Halloween neither encourages nor condones anything negative or evil. The stories of people hiding razor blades in candy are urban legends and twelve-year-olds aren’t performing the Black Mass in the elementary school playground. Instead, they are engaging in social rituals, cementing the bonds of community, while practicing a kind of role-reversal with adults as they can, on this one night every year, dress up, go out at night, and demand things be given to them (at least, I hope this is the one night parents let them do this…).
So, what’s the problem?
The fear of paganism.
Personally, I find this idea so idiotic that it makes me pray to Dionysus that my next bottle of wine will obliterate it.
Man, that Dionysus loves to party!
I’m not going to get into a cultural look at paganism. Needless to say, it’s not devil-worship and Wiccans aren’t going around sacrificing babies on altars of human skin. But the idea that we can get away from all things pagan is quite absurd. Our culture is a direct outgrowth of ancient Roman culture and almost everything we do in this country can trace its roots back to pagan religions and rituals.
Much has been made of the pagan roots of Christmas and Easter celebrations, so there’s no need to delve into that. However, here are a few other areas that the people who decry Halloween should re-examine if they’re truly trying to avoid pagan influences.
What? What’s more all American than sports?
Well, organized sporting events have their roots in pagan religious festivals. For the Greeks, all sporting events were held as rituals to honor the gods. For the Romans, they originated as Etruscan funeral rites to ensure passage to the Underworld. For the Aztecs, it determined who would be sacrificed (the losing teams had their hearts removed – kind of like what British soccer hooligans do today).
So next time you Godly folk enjoy a football game, remember that you’re participating in an ancient pagan ritual.
Yep, here’s Dionysus again.
Whether it’s wine, beer, or rum, alcohol came about as a way for pagan peoples to become more connected to their gods. From the Greeks to the Vikings to Native Americans, mind-altering substances offered a connection to the other side. Think of that while guzzling your next Bud Light.
It doesn’t get much more pagan than this. Cake? Check. Candles? Check. Presents? Check. Making a wish? Even celebrating the day itself? Check and check.
All relics from pagan rituals.
“Wait,” you might say. “Our wedding is purely Christian/Jewish/Secular/etc.”
Well… Not really. The white dress, the ring, the bridesmaids and groomsmen, all of these were established during ancient Roman weddings. Each are pagan rites that serve a very specific purpose in ancient pagan religion.
THE DAYS OF THE WEEK
“Happy Friday,” you might say to your co-worker, completely oblivious that you just said a prayer to the Norse Goddess Freya.
Every time you say or write “Wednesday,” you are offering homage to Wotan (or Odin, if you’re nasty). Thursday? Oh, you mean THOR’s Day!
You and the kids got anything planned for Saturn’s Day this weekend?
Oh ho ho, you people are so pagan and don’t even know it.
My word count’s running low, so here’s a quick list of other pagan rituals you likely observe. Do some Google-Fu if you doubt their pagan origins:
-Saying “God bless you” when someone sneezes
-Thanksgiving and any other large dinner feast at a holiday
-Funerals (especially tombstones, flowers, and eulogies)
-Putting flowers in the house
-Placing photographs anywhere (image-based magic goes back thousands of years before photography and directly led to our cultural practice of keeping images of living and deceased loved ones around)
-Sleeping on a bed instead of the floor
-Naming a child after a dead relative (this is Ancestor worship in its purest form)
-School (Yep, even organized education goes back to pagan rites)
So next time you’re tempted to attack Halloween for being pagan, leave my favorite holiday alone and go and enjoy your incredibly pagan American lifestyle.
Brad C. Hodson is an author and screenwriter living in Los Angeles. For more of his work, please visit brad-hodson.com, or follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.