I have always approached Halloween with a hint of skepticism and apathy. As a child, I was very clear about the reason—I DON’T LIKE BEING SCARED. Sure, like most kids, I enjoyed gorging myself on Pixy Stix, Big League Chew, Nerds, Sugar Babies, Dum Dums, Sweeties, and Zagnut bars after my parents inspected them.
As I grew older, and candy became less of an attraction, my friends turned to silly pranks and ghoulish stunts meant to frighten our peers and wreak havoc on our neighborhood. Again, this seemed to me to be destructive and SCARY, albeit for different reasons. Now, Halloween seems to give some adults license to publicly engage in silly or even debauched behavior. This can be a whole different kind of frightening.
The Halloween practice of trick or treating derives from the medieval tradition of “souling,” in which children would sing and say prayers for the dead in return for cakes. It is interesting how customs and practices morph (especially in culturally heterogeneous societies like ours) and take on new rituals and interpretations.
We are often uncomfortable with acknowledging death; it brings up memories of painful losses and reminds us of our own mortality. For many cultures, including the Mexican tradition of Dia de los Muertos, remembering loved ones publicly and being confronted with the inevitability of death also offers the opportunity to be grateful.
Like you, I read about the tragic deaths of two Marysville high school students at the hands of a fourteen year-old boy with feelings of dismay, anger, and helplessness. Each time I hear about a school shooting, I am reminded how precious and fleeting life is. Perhaps this Halloween we can spend a few minutes with our own version of “souling,” giving our heartfelt thoughts (if not prayers and song) for those who lost their lives last Friday.
Although I have never been much of a fan of Halloween, this year as I roam the streets amidst the costumed children I will be reminded of those innocent victims and generous souls who are no longer among us, and I will hug my children in gratitude before they head off to collect their treats.