Halloween is approaching and I am not sure how to handle it. Again. I didn’t grow up with Halloween. In Romania on Nov. 1 we remembered those who had passed away by taking candles and flowers to the cemetery, a soothing ritual that brought them back for a bit.
Having lost two of my beloved grandparents by the time I was nine, I was looking forward to the day when the side of the hill with the cemetery became bright with trembling candle light. Spooky? Not quite. A remembrance ceremony.
The streak of magic was always there, though not by design. That’s what you get when you mix late-night November chill and yellow candle light. A separation between life and death that was a reminder as much as it was a celebration.
Halloween. The uneasiness of it. Perhaps it’s the rows of bloodied-up costumes everywhere, chain-saws and axes. I would not describe myself as faint of heart but I shudder when I see a five-year-old dressed like he just committed a chain-saw massacre, fake blood and all.
It is a free country, you’ll say, each of us has the right to choose any bloody costume we want, no pun intended. The line between acceptable and risqué or gory, however, becomes too thin at times with kid costumes.
The gory tales that the brothers Grimm wrote back in the day qualify as Halloween material. Yet how many kids are being read those stories? Not too many and for a reason — they’re scary. The stories we read nowadays have good characters, they teach good lessons and there’s no decapitation or dismembering. But then the bloody festival of Halloween makes it all acceptable again. What gives?
And the decorations. People once decorated with jack-o-lanterns, corn stalks tied together, white sheets covering bushes to look like ghosts and scarecrows and candles. Stores now abound with plastic decorations and fake RIP tombstones. Where do they come from and what happens to them come Nov. 1? What are they made of? (Here’s a hint — non-renewable resources and most of them non-recyclable.)
If they get damaged, they get thrown out. Cheap stuff has the grand disadvantage of being short lived.
Store-bought decorations can be scary. I remember a life-sized witch that had a motion-activated voice screaming, “Help me.” It was concealed by leaves and impossible to notice as we walked towards the door. It made my youngest jump into my arms and scream in fear for 10 minutes. To this day the vivid details of the witch are etched in his brain.
Children love spookiness and that shiver-up-the-spine brought by a good ghost story. Adults do too. There’s something appealing in the fear. Yet there’s a way to keep a healthy scare from becoming a nightmare — create the spookiness yourself.
When kids work at making their own spooky décor, they feel in control.
I’d say it’s about time we give Halloween a fresh coat of paint. Let the kids put together homemade decorations. Funny-spooky is what Halloween becomes for the little ones, then. And why not?
They still get the chill-up-the-spine, less the nightmares afterwards. Because that’s what Halloween should be about — make-believe.
Daniela Ginta is a scientist, mother, writer and blogger. Reach her at email@example.com.