December 6, 2021


Holidays are supposed to have a point. Holy days celebrate things of spiritual significance, and even secular holidays honor people, values and events worthy of remembrance and respect. No matter what religion or society a holiday comes from, it should have a message that outsiders can understand.

So what’s the deal with Halloween? Supposedly it’s something to do with honoring ghosts and spirits. I don’t know a single person who thinks or cares about ghosts, and yet Halloween has becomes a big annual event — now for adults as well as kids. Some people might say the point of Halloween is to let loose and have a bit of fun. I’m not so sure.

At its best, Halloween is playful, creative, and entertaining. It’s a mid-Autumn ritual that kids can look forward to and adults can reconnect with their youthful energy. That all sounds good to me, and if Halloween stuck to those themes, I’d have no objection.

At its worst, Halloween is much darker. Dressing up in costume plays into today’s unhealthy culture of attention-seeking and image-projection. Competing for social-approval leads some women to dress in hyper-sexual outfits they would otherwise not wear in public. It’s another occasion where people feel pressure to be seen having fun, whether they’re really enjoying themselves or not.

There’s also an inherent danger in centering a holiday on candy. Sugar is highly addictive and is a source of many health problems. Obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, depression, anxiety, and other mental and physical disorders would all improve if we consumed less sugar. Meanwhile, Halloween encourages kids to hoard candy and binge — sometimes for weeks or months to come.

Trick-or-treating — a ritualized demand for sugar and attention — is a great metaphor for modern culture. Feed my addictions, or else. Every day in social media, people take on fantasy roles as trolls and heroes (it’s hard to tell which are which) and play a never-ending game of digital trick-or-treat. Agree with me. Love me. Punish my enemies. It all seems so unhealthy.

Halloween has become a phony holiday that calls us to suspend our good judgment, project an imaginary version of ourselves, ignore consequences, and engage in unhealthy behavior. In a more innocent and conservative time, it might have been healthy for us to have a holiday that encouraged fantasy and indulgence. Unfortunately, Halloween seems to have taken control of our culture. Fantasy, phoniness and indulgence are the new norm.

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