Halloween has fallen into disfavor lately, and many people seem to prefer to celebrate the harvest instead. But Halloween offers many opportunities for positive growth. My friend Darrell provides a great list, including:
5. Reflect on your own mortality. This was a feature of the pre-Christian observance of Samhain that is certainly appropriate for Christians to embrace, especially American Christians who do such a marvelous job of denial of the fact that we will all some day die. You don’t need to be morbid about it, but perhaps this would be a good time to reflect upon passages like Isaiah 40:6-8 or Psalm 90:3-10. If you’re of a practical mind: Do you have a will? Is it up to date?
6. Make resolutions. Why let all that reflection on your mortality go to waste? Consider what you have learned over the past year. What would you like to do differently next year? Since the new Christian year is less than a month after Halloween (on the First Sunday of Advent, November 28, 2010), now would be a great time to begin pondering the changes you would like to see in your life. To see Darrell’s full list, go here.
To his list, I’d like to add the idea of confronting fears, more than just the fear of our own mortality. After all, I’ve thought a lot about fear: mine and the concept in general. If you want proof, check out the book I co-wrote with Laura Daley. And fear is one of the main aspects of Halloween. So let’s talk about it.
According to Psychology Today, certain universal fear categories exist.
- Death: fear of no longer existing, falling
- Mutilation: fear of illness, bugs, snakes, etc.
- Loss of autonomy: fear of commitment, claustrophobia, etc
- Separation: fear of abandonment or rejection
- Ego death: fear of humiliation, failure
Halloween brings each of these categories front and center. Ghosts and zombies show up at our houses to beg for candy. So do ax-wielding monsters. People display decorations that depict snakes and bugs. People threaten to play tricks on us if we don’t cough up the candy. Halloween literally brings our worst fears–death, mutilation, ego death–to our doorsteps. We have to face them with ever cheery “Trick or Treat.”
But the “threats” that show up at the door on Halloween night are actually out there every day. Every day, we face our five universal fears. Halloween realizes these fears in a concrete way. And we can either be upset that depictions of evil come out of the shadows for a night, or we can practice facing these fearsome things in a safe, harmless way. Overnight, our fears have gone from ideas that we can ignore and deny to the manifestations of creatures and monsters on our doorstep. We get to face them.
On Halloween, we can choose to fight these monsters, mock them, or continue to fear them. Some might dress up as fighters, like superheroes who try to overcome the forces of evil. Others might dress up as monsters themselves. Maybe they aren’t thinking consciously about confronting the fears represented by the monsters they choose to embody. But that might be what they’re doing.
Either way, we remind ourselves that if we give fear power over us, then we will not truly be leading a full, meaningful life.