Why do we love Halloween so much? Its allure is easy to grasp.
We don’t have to juggle travel plans. We’re not obligated to deal with relatives. The stress of gift giving or showing up to a function without a significant other isn’t there.
Essentially, though, I think it’s because Halloween stirs the artistic leanings inside all of us. It’s our most creative holiday.
Start at Halloween’s roots. It’s based on religious mythology, stories from the richest part of the human imagination about spiritual forces and the blurring of lines between life and death.
The storytelling doesn’t end in the ancient past, either. Humans are still drawn to the tingle of dancing with danger, of affirming life through intimacy with its demise.
That’s why we have such a wealth of material in mysterious genres perfect for Halloween. The monstrous, the murderous, the creepy and supernatural have given us cultural cornerstones going back centuries. Names like Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, H.P. Lovecraft, Isaac Asimov, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury and Stephen King have our yen for mystery to thank for their fame.
As film rose to become a prime medium for storytelling, it followed suit. The first horror and science fiction films — 1896’s “The Devil’s Castle” and 1902’s “Trip to the Moon” — sprang into being as soon as camera reels were set spinning.
Buried in all those stories are musings on the deeper complexities of human nature. Mary Shelley’s brilliant tale of Dr. Victor Frankenstein and the creature he cobbled together is one of the most masterful examples.
The scientist had everything one could desire, including health, physical attraction, social esteem and love. The man he made had none of it and was rejected by all, yet wanted nothing more than companionship and acceptance.
Meanwhile, the doctor not only rebuked the precious gifts he took for granted but forced into existence someone condemned to the most heartbreaking loneliness. Who was actually the monster in that arrangement?
You see, the primary fuel for October’s ending festival is pure imagination. No wonder it’s our nation’s second-most popular holiday.
Across our towns and cities, homeowners go all out devising the transformations of their yards from the manicured into the macabre and mirthful. Just like Yuletide efforts, they employ elaborate set-ups with dramatic lighting, and sometimes fog machines or animatronics.
Gone are the days where a pumpkin and a candle were enough. Now it’s no challenge to find yard decorations that can set you back $100, even more if you’re really committed.
Even the archetypal jack-o’-lantern has changed from simple triangular eyes and nose and toothy smile — an allusion to the rictus of a grinning skull — toward more intricate renderings made for testing creativity and humor. A little sculpting prowess doesn’t hurt either.
Then there’s the role-playing and costuming aspect of Halloween. Even as kids, we assigned value to not only who you chose to be but the effort behind the costume. Nobody really wanted some cheap plastic mask held on with a flimsy rubber band guaranteed to break.
No, the good costumes were DIY, things you assembled or coaxed a parent into helping you make. The more thorough it was, the more cred you earned in the neighborhood or at school.
Now that the costuming is commonplace well into adulthood, and everyone seems bound for Halloween soirees these days, the cosplay bar has been raised to boot. Even the off-the-rack stuff at the proliferating pop-up Halloween shops is a far cry from the standard fare just two decades back.
The evidence is all across our social-media-infused lives. Mid-October starts a parade of party photos wherein adults all the way up to retirement age exercise any number of skills to climb into another persona for the night. You don’t get a pair of grown men into personally tailored frocks and dresses without some hard work, you know.
So let your inner child rule your outer life this week. Creativity is like a muscle, you have to use it to keep it in top shape, and its vitality makes life’s ardor that much easier to handle.