My house can’t compete with the Catacombes de Paris, but there are still plenty of skeletons here, and even more when you step outside. Does that make my home a frightening place? I hope not, because it’s not meant to be.
At this time of year, skeletons are a common theme, and in my opinion, one of the most benign. I guess I had lots of Halloween costumes as a child, but the one I remember most was the gauzy black thing with a reflective white skeleton printed on the front, and a plastic skull mask that fit over my face with an elastic band. It seems that even then I had a thing for skeletons!
I suppose I was banking on the fear factor when I donned my skeleton suit as a child, but my views have matured with age, and now I see the skeleton as a symbol of the season, and nothing to fear.
A friend told me recently that her child is frightened by some of the images he sees at this time of year, and it made me wonder about my own displays, and about whether parents should make an effort to take the fear out of Halloween.
Of course being opinionated on the subject is easy for me since skeleton trauma was never an issue here, and because my three kids are now grown and have children of their own.
I’ve always felt that a little bit of education goes a long way, and that parents would do well to explain that at its root, Halloween is a seasonal celebration that is not about Skittles and Snickers bars, but about one all-important phase in the cycle of life — namely death — and our proximity to it. Halloween is about that liminal time when all things change in preparation for the long death of winter.
Other cultures seem to have a better grip on things. Dia de los Muertos — the Day of the Dead — is celebrated throughout Latin America, and the skeleton is prominently featured, with celebrants honoring their departed loved ones with food, music and costumes. Why at this time of year? Again, because it is that liminal time when the living and the dead are seen to “co-mingle” due to the changing of the season. It’s really pretty cool when you think about it!
Hollywood has taken what should be a beautiful holiday and turned it into something about torture, murder and pain, things that I feel have no place during Halloween. I know it’s not easy for parents. Heck, anybody who has read my voluminous Year in the Death of One Man project knows that I’ve grappled with the subject myself, and maybe that’s why I believe it’s good to develop healthy attitudes from an early age.
Perhaps fear has a role during Halloween, but for youngsters, let it be a healthy fear of the unknown. Temper those fears with solid knowledge about the cycle of life and the changing of the seasons. Some skeletons are scary, but hey, most of the ones around here look like they’re having a pretty good time!