The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Monday, October 31, 2011


Today is Halloween, one of the few holidays that is, at this point in time, simply about fun.  Yes, there is an old tradition of harvest/coming winter festivals celebrated by cultures throughout the world (the Celtic festival that most people cite as being the origin of Halloween is, in reality, only one of many similar festivals celebrated by peoples the world over throughout history), but only a small number of people within the modern U.S. or western Europe observe or even acknowledge the historical and social roots of Halloween anymore.  It is now simply a day in which people get to play dress-up, children get to seek candy, and adults get to make fools of themselves.

It's a toned-down carnivale.

I have always liked Halloween.  The symbols and imagery that would be considered morbid or dour at any other time of the year are rendered goofy by their over-abundance.  There is something joyful about watching children try to figure out how to get the biggest candy haul, while watching adults try to re-capture some element of their childhood (even I did so this year, dressing as the 4th Doctor and attending a party). 

Hell, even the usual over-bearing and obnoxious tendency for some of the more loopy churches to claim that everything outside of their absurdist walls is somehow evil is rendered almost charming as their yearly declarations that they would not allow their children to observe "Satan's holiday" becomes just so much noise in the otherwise celebratory background.  Indeed, their insistence on this nonsense probably does much to push away the saner people who see this nuttiness for the hysteria that it is.

About the only de-facto tradition of this time of the year that really annoys me is the yearly moral panic.  The reality is that there has never been a case of an adult poisoning candy handed out to trick-or-treaters, but this lack of it ever happening hasn't stopped parents and even law enforcement officials (who should know better than to A) believe this nonsense, or B) waste resources and money encouraging this false belief in the "name of safety") from doing the usual thing and ignoring reality in the face of scary-sounding but absurd rumor.  Really, the fact that this story continues to be told year-after-year despite the evidence shows more than anything that we as a population are really, horribly, tragically bad at calculating risk.  And while this inability to calculate risk can have more serious consequences (war in Iraq and a return of nearly-eradicated contagious disease, anyone?) it is brought in a small but direct way into everyone's homes every year on October 31st.

Okay, rant done.  If you have kids, take them trick-or-treating, it's perfectly safe, no matter what anyone tells you.  If you're an adult, have some candy by the door, and put on a scary movie (or, if you can't stomach horror movies, watch Ghostbusters).  And, everyone, have a good time tonight.  It's going to get darker before it gets lighter again, so take the coming winter with some joy rather than dread.

Happy Halloween!


John said...

OMG, all night long I was trying to tell everyone about the actual candy tampering statistics (three cases, ALL of which were from a family member, not a stranger). Even though everyone more or less nodded in agreement, nobody stopped inspecting their wrappers.

Lynn said...

Well, there are the things we fear, like poisoned candy, plane crashes, strangers abducting our children,and UFOs ... then there are the things that we're quite comfortable with, like driving, taking vaccination advice from models, eating at McDonald's regularly, etc.

We have our priorities straight, say I!

Anthroslug said...

Sorry, I was busy reading my copy of the secret (the key to my retirement plan), what were you saying?