Have you already packed up your Halloween costume? I wonder what you were this year: goblin, ghost, superhero, cheerleader? If you are an adult, have you noticed a pattern in your costumes over the years? Be honest now. Have you been a monster 10 or 12 times or Mae West over and over? Let’s think about what that means… I have a friend who was Batman nine years in a row as a kid, and now he’s a school psychologist. Makes sense, huh?
We always had a couple of boys every year at St. Albans who would borrow one of the chaplain’s cassocks and collar and play a priest, bestowing blessings up and down the hallway, and then begging someone to make his confession. And there was usually some burly guy who would wear a wig and squeeze into his sister’s pumps. One year I was standing by the Little Field with a dad, who yelled to his wife at a distance, walking toward us from the courts in her tennis whites. “I’m surprised to see her so far from her office in the middle of the day,” he said. It was his son.
It’s pretty great, isn’t it, to dress up as some form of your alter ego, walk through the neighborhood, and get candy for your effort.
Tuesday evening I struck up a conversation with everyone who walked by my stoop, and the little kids beamed when I recognized the Disney princess or cartoon character they were channeling. Not so with the teenagers. As an adolescent, you find yourself in a bit of a grey zone about Halloween. You get impatient with people who want to compliment you on your costume. Not thinking, I said to a young man, “You’re a pumpkin, aren’t you,” and he responded with a bored and frustrated voice, “Not just a pumpkin, man. I’m a jack-o-lantern.” Underneath his face paint, I’m pretty sure I saw his eyes rolling.
No one really knows how our current version of the holiday came to be. It didn’t earn a permanent spot on the American calendar until the 20th century, and “no one finds mention of trick-or-treating or anything like it in published sources earlier than 1939.” (David Emery, Urban Myths) Interestingly enough, one does find reports of “unrestrained pranksterism and vandalism in connection with Halloween from the late 1880’s on,” so current theory holds that trick-or-treating was contrived by adults to provide an orderly alternative to juvenile mischief. (Emery) If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, I guess.
Of course the word Halloween derives from “All Hallows Eve,” so our dressing up in costumes on the night before All Saints Day may borrow from a medieval custom. In those days and earlier, folks believed that on this holy night and day, the souls of the dead mingled with the souls of the living in some special and powerful way. Long before Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis, people dressed as their biggest fears or sorrows on one day of the year, so as not to be controlled by them on the other 364. The veil between order and misrule, present and past, the living and the dead is thin on All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day. Insightful folks are willing to hold it all at once.
This weekend we celebrate the feast of All Saints in the same spirit: baptizing babies, blessing the new Columbarium, and reading the names of parishioners who have died over the past year. Make a special effort to be with us, so that with you we can name the folks that you love and have lost. The liturgy enables us to hold together grief and joy with heaven and earth.
Wearing a costume can be one of two things: a way to hide or a way to set yourself a little free. We can cower behind a mask of our own making, or explore a new dimension of ourselves with judgment suspended for a while. Next Halloween you might re-discover a passion that you had forgotten. Why don’t you act it out sometime between now and next year? If someone asks what you are doing, you can always say you are working ahead on your costume. And if your exploring uncovers a deep longing inside you, chances are the world has a deep need that fits it exactly.