It’s never too early to start getting ready for Halloween, Utah’s favorite holiday. Already, the pumpkins are piled up for purchase, the candies are spilling off the shelves, and the kiddies are going crazy about their costumes.
Once upon a time, Halloween was a minor annoyance, something to do between Labor Day and Thanksgiving. A day or two before the event, you might buy a bag of cheap hard treats for the tricksters, and if you had an ambulatory child on your premises, you might cut a couple of eyeholes in an old sheet and send your tyke out into the neighbor as Casper the Friendly Ghost.
Now, of course, Halloween is a major production, a wealth-producing enterprise requiring consumers to shell out considerable sums for fancy treats, elaborate costumes and bizarre house decorations. It was a gradual evolution, this glorification of a moribund pagan festival of the dead. Happy souls and sweet spirits would be mortified if they knew they were re-enacting, even if at a few degrees of separation, the pagan festival of the dead involving such merry-making rituals as human sacrifice and devil worship.
By whatever means Halloween came to be an even happier time of year than Christmas is open for speculation. It might be something as simple as “keeping up with the Joneses” or the related phenomenon of “monkey see, monkey do.” In all human affairs, there is a compulsion to makes things bigger and better, and that compulsion is certainly evident in how we do Halloween in the modern era.
As we all know, Halloween is done bigger and better (and earlier) right here in Zion. The Season of the Witch is inaugurated the day after Labor Day, giving us two full months to get into the spirit of Halloween. I had hoped to be the first in my neighborhood to deck the house with cobwebs and garroted skeletons and pointy-chinned witches. But sometime during the dark hours after the sun set on Labor Day, the Heeneys, a family of 14 a few houses down, had beaten me to the punch, festooning their property with goblins with glowing eyes, ghouls hoisting themselves out of graves, and a giant jack-o’-lantern that bears an uncanny resemblance to Gov. Gary Herbert.
There is something about Halloween that moves everybody to get into the act. During the Halloween season, you see folks going about their daily activities dressed as bloody vampires, cackling witches or sexy nurses (usually males). People in various service industries join in the fun, though there is often something perfunctory about their costumes, as if it were part of their job description to dress up on Halloween.
Any day now, I expect to encounter a checker in the express lane at Dan’s dressed up as Dracula or Darth Vader, and looking very unhappy about it. Whether at the post office, the doctor’s waiting room or the dentist, you see employees vaguely embarrassed to be in costume, sort of like dogs forced to wear tutus.
On the other hand, maybe everybody waits all year for the opportunity to shuck their aprons, scrubs or everyday wear for pink wigs and fake boobs the size of nuclear warheads.
Which brings us to the question of what, apart from the cultural and corporate hoopla of Halloween, can be divined about the psychological significance of the costumery, whether spooky or silly. Leaving children’s dress-up out of the equation, are Halloween habiliments merely a random reflection of popular culture, or do they express secret wishes and forbidden desires?
When someone dresses up like Miley Cyrus, is he or she channeling an inner twerk, or just pulling the nearest costume off the rack? If someone shows up on your porch wearing ragged clothes and a John Swallow mask, does that mean he is expecting coin of the realm rather than candy corn? We won’t even get into cross-dressing on Halloween, which is, according to statistics more popular in Utah than dominion east of San Francisco.
The enormous popularity of Halloween in Utah no doubt represents a collective revolt against the sweet conformity enforced during the non-Halloween months. There is now a rumor making the rounds that the upcoming Undie Run will take advantage of the expanded Halloween season and suggest that its participants wear trick-or-treat underwear as they sprint through downtown Salt Lake. A bridge-building invitation has also been extended to General Conference attendees to get a head start on Halloween by shedding their Sunday best and making a run for it.
D.P. Sorensen writes a satire column for City Weekly.