The dark side of Halloween


In two weeks, people will be celebrating Halloween. Immediately after, we will also be observing “Undas” or “All Saints Day” and “All Souls Day.”

For some people, Halloween means going to parties dressed in colourful and unique costumes. When our son was a pre-schooler in Canada, my husband would take him around our neighbourhood block in Toronto, where we lived then, carrying a huge bag and would go house to house, trick-or-treating. Afterwards, our son would happily eat the sweets and look forward to next year’s Halloween. Halloween was the next big thing to Christmas. The popular costumes among kids then were those of witches, werewolves and vampires, the scarier the better. I remember my son complaining once that his costume at his school’s Halloween “sucked”. “Why do you think so? How were your friends dressed anyway?” I asked him. “They had cool costumes. Some were dressed as werewolves,” he replied. “And what were you dressed as?” I asked. “A stupid pirate,” he sad, sadly. I burst out laughing. “Never mind, next year, you’ll have a better costume,” I told him, just to comfort him.

Today, even grown-ups love to celebrate Halloween, drawing out the child in them and finding a reason to dress as someone else or come to a party dressed as a modern version of Dracula, romanticized in the popular teen movie, The Twilight Saga, shown a few years ago.

Yet how did the celebration of Halloween originate? Most sources point to the Celts in Ireland, the UK and Scotland who started the tradition, choosing Oct. 31 as a day of “Samhain” (pronounced as sow-in) when the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. They celebrated it by lighting bonfires and wearing costumes to ward off the evil spirits. But a more realistic and secular view is offered by a Canadian professor.

Benjamin Radford, one of the contributing authors of LiveScience website, noted that according to Nicholas Rogers, a history professor at York University in Toronto and author of “Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night” (Oxford University Press, 2003), “there is no hard evidence that Samhain was specifically devoted to the dead or to ancestor worship. “According to the ancient sagas, Samhain was the time when tribal peoples paid tribute to their conquerors and when the sidh (ancient mounds) might reveal the magnificent palaces of the gods of the underworld,” Rogers wrote. Samhain was less about death or evil than about the changing of seasons and preparing for the dormancy (and rebirth) of nature as summer turned to winter, he said.

“Though a direct connection between Halloween and Samhain has never been proven, many scholars believe that because All Saints’ Day (or All Hallows’ Mass, celebrated on Nov. 1) and Samhain, are so close together on the calendar that they influenced each other and later combined into the celebration now called Halloween.” Rogers noted.

In the Philippines, some people celebrate Halloween in their villages or in malls or selected hotels. It’s not as hugely popular as it is in the U.S. or in Canada but is nevertheless catching on. Most popular costumes over here are those of evil spirits like witches, zombies, vampires, or “Tiyanak” “Aswang” “Manananggal” etc. Our movie producers delight in celebrating horror flicks, which incidentally, Filipinos are very good at. The scenes are terrifying, certainly not recommended to watch when one is just settling down to get a good night’s sleep or when one already has trouble sleeping. Yet this obsession with the evil and bizarre makes us think, if the idea was to ward off evil spirits, then why don’t we dress as agents of good spirits, like angels for example? That would indeed turn the tables against the evil spirits. Is it because we don’t want to be perceived by our peers as “uncool?” Or a “do-goody?”

There is more than enough evil, conflict and darkness in the world without us celebrating it during Halloween, whether through tradition, movies or the media. On the other hand, there are a few good deeds that we see around us that deserve to be celebrated.

Perhaps instead of Halloween, we would be better off observing All Saints Day by offering prayers for our dearly departed and remembering them rather than partying, dressed like ghosts, vampires and zombies.