Have you ever read the story “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson? It’s a grim story — perfect for this time of year. I’ll give you a synopsis.
Every year in a small American town, all of the citizens get together and participate in a game of chance. It’s like a community-wide game of bingo, except that it’s completely different. I won’t spoil it, but at the end of the lottery, there aren’t any winners. Just one big loser. One big loser every year.
The moral of the story: If we’re not careful, our traditions can become more than just foolish. At their very worst, they can become dangerous, and we can be too set in our ways to realize it.
I have to be honest with you, I think Halloween is one of the stupidest traditions we’ve got. I’m not talking about the local Halloween Block Party, though I’ll have a few words to say about that in a little while. No, I’m talking about the whole bloody mess — All Saints Day Eve and the morbid month that precedes it.
The problem is that Halloween doesn’t mean anything anymore. I could launch into a lengthy dissertation about the history of Halloween — how the Christian tradition of All Hallows’ Day blended with pagan practices, and both brought their own shades of meaning and significance.
But I’ll cut to the chase: Halloween is about death. The trees are dying, the sunlight is dying and we’re all dying. So, we put skeletons up everywhere and tell ghost stories. Cool. Reflecting on mortality is noble enough. (Trust me, I know how to brood.)
Except we don’t really reflect on death on Halloween do we? Nope, we mostly make a lot of noise and break things and binge — on candy when we’re kids, and alcohol when we’re adults.
I’ve always felt like Halloween was just a big, flashy, kitschy spectacle with not much behind it. It’s like the wizard behind the curtain, and I’ve grown tired of it.
To me, a good holiday needs two things: meaning and authenticity. In other words, it has to have a point, and that point shouldn’t be bastardized or exploited by commercialism.
Halloween ranks lowest on both counts. Christmas does alright when it comes to meaning (at the very least, we can all get behind the idea of peace and goodwill on Earth), but scores pretty low the on noncommercialization scale.
You know what ranks the highest, in my opinion? Thanksgiving. I know, I know. “Thanksgiving is boring,” you say.
Well, I say it’s a more meaningful Halloween and a less commercialized Christmas wrapped up in one, with lots of grandma’s mashed potatoes and gravy piled on top.
But fine. If you love Halloween, I hope you have a good one. Trick or treat and smell my feet, eat, drink and be merry and all that jazz.
To get yourself more in the macabre spirit, I really suggest you read “The Lottery.” Then, when you go out Monday, or on Saturday for the block party, take a few moments to reflect on your surroundings — the chaos and calamity and occasional destruction — and consider who drew the black dot.
Besides, why must we insist on doing the same dang thing year in and year out, anyway?
William T. Perkins is a senior studying journalism at Ohio University. How do you feel about Halloween? Let William know by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.