October is upon us, and we all know what that means; it’s finally time for Halloween. On the list of the top ten best holidays, Halloween easily fills ranks 1-9. It is truly a peerless event, but October 31 is not just an excuse to eat an entire bag of mini-snickers bars while dressed up as your favorite character from the Office. It is a chance for young and old alike to step outside the doldrums of their daily lives and embrace something a little spookier.
Modern historians agree that All Hallows’ Eve rose from a dark miasma of harvest festivals and Christian tomfoolery to become the wild night of candy sharing, costume wearing, and reckless daring that it is today. Traditional methods of celebration include rituals to predict the future, giving offerings to spirits, and marching down the streets in mourning clothes to wail for lost souls. Wearing costumes and giving out treats were in there too, and eventually came to the forefront. The now famous practices and festivities of Halloween were not widespread in America until the early 20th century. It is thanks to the large groups of Scottish and Irish immigrants in the 19th century that Halloween is now a pillar of American culture.
The two primary virtues of Halloween are its ease of celebration and encouragement of creativity. No matter who you are, you can have fun on Halloween. The youngsters get to run from house to house seeking to expand their horde of glucose-rich riches. Impetuous young-adults like me get a chance to have a party with a better spirit and classier outfits than my usual wanton debauchery. Even responsible adults can get in on the fun with carefully curated baskets of candy (nobody wants your Good and Plenties, Ian) to distribute or taking their own youngsters on a jack-o’-lantern lit hunt for treats.
Halloween is not a holiday that everyone must enjoy, but is a holiday that everyone can participate in. It’s hard to say you celebrated Thanksgiving without rivers of cranberry sauce and gravy coupled with engaging social commentary from you Aunt Debra. Halloween is much simpler. At minimum, a bucket of candy with a “take one” note on your front porch is enough to be part of the fun. Of course, one could go all out with costumes, decorations, and parties, but every level between those two extremes is an equally valid way to join in the festivities.
Halloween also gets participants to tap into the most haunting reaches of their imagination. Whether it be filling your yard with fake corpses and skeletons, peeling grapes and chilling spaghetti for your haunted house, or donning your handmade replica of Queen Victoria’s wedding dress, Halloween gives all of us a chance to flex our creativity. Some of my fondest childhood memories are dressing up as a Star Wars character for the fourth year in a row and struggling to carve the face of a T-Rex into an uncooperative pumpkin. Do I remember what I got for Christmas when I was six? Of course not. That’s because the magic really happens before any of that Santa nonsense can even begin.
Wearing costumes, or guising, is one of the signature elements of Halloween. Classical costumes were usually depictions of supernatural characters like witches and vampires, but the modern trick-or-treater might arrive dressed as any number of fictional characters. The unbridled joy of a child getting to dress up as their favorite princess or poltergeist may seems like a privilege of the young. Luckily, that is not the case. The allure of picking out a charming or unique costume affects someone preparing to hit the candy-filled streets, getting ready for a spook-themed party, or getting into the spirit while preparing for eager trick-or-treaters to arrive at their door.
Many modern American holidays have complicated histories, but few share the rare synthesis of Halloween. It is a mixed child of dozens of cultures and traditions that have blended and mingled over the centuries to create the yearly beacon of excitement that Halloween is today. Despite this history, Halloween is a holiday of unity. Everyone can participate in whatever way suits them, and even the smallest of those paths involve engaging with others. Fun is available to any who choose to seek it out, regardless of who they are. Few other holidays can boast such an ability. Choosing the king of holidays is a controversial task, but I can only see that king’s crown as edged with candy corn.
Evan Mortimer is an undergraduate in Columbia College studying English and Political Science. He is from a state with less people in it than New York City, but enjoys being amongst the crowds nonetheless.