Like every other holiday, Halloween has been adopted by culture after culture, decade after decade, and ultimately customized and transformed to fit our needs and wants. From this transformation came a newfound appreciation of art; an entirely new genre of media and literature was birthed and an unbreakable bond was formed between strangers who share the joy of the infamous day.
So, when did the mockery of fellow human beings become characteristic of Halloween? When did it become ok for anyone to willingly dress up in a costume that mocks a person? Even worse, a person who is oppressed.
Halloween is a Christian holiday. No, you haven’t stumbled across a typo and this paradoxical statement will be explained before your gasp matures. Originally called “All Hallows Eve,” the once religious holiday dates back centuries and is dedicated to remembering saints, martyrs, and other believers in religion’s golden boy, Jesus Christ.
Jack-o’-Lanterns—deemed protective pumpkins—were originally used to keep evil spirits away. Skulls were a décor used to remind us that life is fleeting and that death is simply a part of life. And according to Rev. Dr. Eddie J. Smith, author of Halloween, Hallowed Be Thy Name, costumes of evil creatures and beings were worn to “poke fun at the serpent whose head had been crushed by our Savior [Jesus Christ].”
Today the once-sanctified day is characterized by many as nothing short of satanic. Several communities and schools across the nation have banned Halloween celebrations. Police force is beefed-up in preparation for the night and many of us are verbally crucified for our choice in costume. So, where did we go wrong?
For many of you, the phrase “go wrong” will not go down your esophagus easily; at least not without a tall glass of OJ nearby. Why should you be concerned with upholding an ancient tradition of a religion with which you may not even be affiliated? The short and quite obvious answer is: you shouldn’t. But, there is something to be learned from our aforementioned “holy brethren.”
Somewhere, over the years, it become cool to rock a head full of feathers and a piece of raw hide to favor Native Americans, a group that is still restricted to reservations here in our own backyard, who continue to have staggeringly poor living conditions. Sporting “black face” became a Halloween favorite for some. Just a year ago, at the University of Florida, a fraternity paraded around with black paint on their faces and enormous Afros to favor African-Americans for Halloween. When did this become acceptable?
Sure, we can do a little bit of research and trusty Google will tell us that social poisons such as racism found its way into the holiday around “such and such” time when “this or that” happened. But the more appropriate question is: why did it become ok to mock fellow human beings?
The mockery of another person during Halloween, whether knowingly or not, strips the age-old Holiday of its original purpose to ward of those “unseen evils” and, in turn, manifest that evil, or hate, in the flesh. These costumes rely heavily on ethnic stereotypes. Orange jumpsuits complete with an alien mask and a tag that reads: illegal alien, ridiculously huge mustaches accompanied by a flashy Mexican sombrero and some maracas, and “cute” little Japanese kimonos and wooden fans are all costumes solely based off of ethnic stereotypes. Wearing these costumes only perpetuates these stereotypes and preserves the hate and subsequent oppression of these persons.
To make light of this issue is to simultaneously agree that the consequences of perpetuating such stereotypes should be allowed. For many of us, this seemingly innocent and light-hearted act creates a very real perception well after Halloween has passed. Like the media, the lines between fiction and fact become blurred and we find ourselves almost subconsciously believing parts of the stereotype we projected in the name of “playing dress-up.”
While preservations of the original “All Hallows Eve” are certainly not necessary, we ought to consider the nature of what has become our “All Hallows Eve.” The “face of evil” has emerged from the said spiritual realms and now resides on the very face of fellow humans. We should question why hate, in the form of reinstated stereotypes, walks amongst us.