By Kellie Schorr
Depending on which part of the US you live in, the air is crisp or humid, your closet is full of sweaters, long-johns or t-shirts and the trees are amber, already barren, or palms.
Still, on October 31 we all experience the same phenomenon: Halloween.
It’s a sacred day to some who feel the veil between worlds reaches its thinnest point causing a moment of connection unlike any other day the year offers, and a nightmare to others who have to teach candy-filled children, or at least keep them in their seats, until the busses line up outside. A time for tricks, treats, costumes, hay rides and witches brew, Halloween makes a unique mark on the calendar of our lives. Beyond the reverence and revelry, it may just be the most honest day of the year.
We all wear a mask
Halloween often divides us into two categories: decorating, cob-web mongering, costume creating fanatics who spare no expense and use gallons of time to create a perfect costume and party experience and people forced to dress up for work who tape white paper circles on a black T-shirt and say “I’m a domino” every year forever. However, every single one of us can agree on one thing—we all wear a mask sometimes. Halloween is just the day we don’t have to hide it.
A woman who knows every type of herb and crystal and feels the power of her inner moonlight all the way to her core, but doesn’t tell anyone because she fears they’ll say she’s crazy, dresses as a beautiful witch to answer the door and gives out fun-sized candy bars from a cauldron. A bullied teenage boy who can’t make it through the school cafeteria without fear puts on a Superman cape and feels his inner strength, if only to walk his baby sister down the street. Transgender people who are not yet ready or able to share who they are often experience Halloween as the one night they can openly dress in a way that celebrates their real being.
Like anonymous poems and beloved tattoos, Halloween can allow us to safely show on the outside what is going on in the heart.
It also reminds us, in the most powerful way, how good it can feel to take the mask off. Let’s face it, inside most costumes it’s hot and sweaty. Wigs pull at our scalp. Stockings itch all the way to our toes. Face paint dries our skin out like the Sahara. Sometimes the best part of putting on a costume is removing it. It’s that way in life, too.
People with chronic illness routinely wear a mask of “doing okay” so others won’t respond to their reality as “the same old set of complaints.” Men and women filled with pain put on a mask of hate and intolerance that damages them from the outside inward. People on the margins of society smile politely as the margin-makers talk over, under and around them. Some masks we control. Others control us. Halloween is a great night to let them go, look in the mirror and let our real, natural self breathe fresh air.
Generosity is our Joy
Beyond the little ghosts, Pokemon Pikachus, and adults with a three dollar plastic Batman cowl on the top of their heads (because they spent the rest of the their budget on Pikachu), one of the best things Halloween does for us is allow us to give with abandon.
Halloween takes giving to its ultimate experience. Halloween giving doesn’t come with the weird strings of obligation that often tie up Christmas gifts. There’s no “Uncle Ted gave me Smarties last year so this year I’m just giving him a pencil eraser.”
It doesn’t require any one religion to dominate the day. Practicing Pagans, witches and Wiccans seem pretty cool about attending to their rites and letting other people do what they want. Even with the cost of candy these days, there aren’t TV shows and editorials announcing “Keep the HALLOW in Halloween” or “Halloween is too commercial.”
Not only is giving to strangers—to people who aren’t going to give back—encouraged, it’s actually celebrated. I live in a rural area where trick or treating isn’t feasible (you’d have to walk about three miles to get to six houses and the cows just aren’t as friendly to tiny Storm Troopers and mini Wonder Women as you’d think they would be). Still people here buy and donate candy to churches, retirement homes, and shelters so they can participate in the fun. If you’re tossing candy my way, I’m particularly fond of Skittles.
As surely as basic goodness lies at center of our life, basic generosity with its stunning ability to get us to set aside the differences and backstory and just enjoy a good Snickers, shines through this harvest celebration. I hear a lot of people complain that stores are already stocking Christmas items as if it is invading Halloween, but my secret hope is that Halloween will shed a little of its generosity with Christmas in the process.
We’re all a Little Magic
“There’s a little witch in all of us,” Aunt Jet says in Alice Hoffman’s delightful book Practical Magic. There’s a truth to that on Halloween that we should regard more mindfully. Telling stories, even spooky ones, is a craft that links one generation to another, and shares both lessons and love. There’s a reason most forms of Buddhism use stories to teach dharma. They form a powerful spell of understanding and clarity in their transmission.
We know magic words. I love you. I’m sorry. I hear you. I’m with you. I believe you. Our words are like ingredients to the finest potions in the world. They lead to healing, growing and knowing. In a twilight season of crones and cackles, take stock of your ordinary magic and prepare to use it more than just this night.
As a Buddhist, Halloween is neither sacred nor forbidden. In many ways, it’s a day for compassion, generosity, and happiness, just like any other. Seen with a heart light, however, it’s an extraordinary chance to see interesting people, plastic pumpkins, and the things that remind us of our interconnected nature.
At its best, it is a day of truth.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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