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Halloween can be whatever you want it to be

By Emilie Medland-Marchen, October 27, 2015 —

This weekend, a couple of friends and I decided to celebrate Halloween by scaring ourselves silly, courtesy of the 2014 Australian-Canadian thriller The Babadook. Despite being a genuinely terrifying film, the combination of fear and friends was what made it seem like Halloween to me — and I think that’s a pretty accurate way to describe the joy of this holiday.

Despite its pagan roots, Halloween remains relatively secular. It’s one of many similarly spooky holidays celebrated around the world, marked by costumed children and an overdose of sweets. But it’s also a time when it’s okay for adults to dress up and celebrate the spirit of the season with a healthy dose of fear.

The great thing about Halloween is that it doesn’t have to be celebrated in a specific way. There are a few traditions — trick or treating, dressing up in costume, watching scary movies — but Halloween also offers a lot of leniency. It isn’t exclusively driven by the consumption of retail goods and capitalist marketing in the same way that St. Patrick’s Day and Valentine’s Day are, nor is it a holiday dreamt up by Hallmark or one that only really makes sense in America. On Halloween you can stuff your face with candy, dress up in costume, go to a party or pull a prank. None of these things require a lot of money or a traditional family dinner. They just need some friends, a willingness to have fun and a healthy fear of things that go bump in the night.

Given all that, just think about Halloween’s history. It’s fascinating that our ancestors had a designated day to romp around in masks, scaring away devils and eating sweets. That combination of fear and fun was universal enough that Halloween and traditions like it spread all across the world.

Halloween didn’t start as an excuse to sell greeting cards, and it didn’t stay attatched to any particular faith or cultural group. And now it’s a holiday for people who want to have a little fun in the autumn months by scaring the crap out of each other and laughing about it afterwards.

The spirit of Halloween is a universal recognition that we all get scared sometimes. That fear is not only okay, but can be fun too. It’s often better to face our fears than to run away from them, and there’s no better way to do that than laughing in their face alongside your closest peers. Experiencing that fear with others expresses a vulnerability that we all have. It’s humanizing and deeply humbling.

But don’t feel like you need to be scared to enjoy Halloween. However you want to celebrate the holiday this year — even if you don’t celebrate it at all — is perfectly fine. Halloween is a holiday you can enjoy however you please — with friends or alone, in a small group or large and with or without a jump scare tossed in.

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