By Indigo Jones
For some, Halloween can be the highlight of the year; whether this is through the delight of submerging heads in water bobbing for apples, spending an unfortunate amount of money on costumes to only be worn once or just the excitement to decorate the house and watch horror films. Although to others the true horror of Halloween is the controversial aspects that surround the holiday, perhaps this comes a result of costumes that appropriate different cultures or maybe different religious aspects come into play.
Costumes during the Halloween season can be something fun for both children and adults alike, but the fun stops when someone’s culture becomes a costume. There is a difference between appreciating and appropriating a culture and Halloween costumes often tread that very thin line as those who dress up often forget to take others into consideration. If you type in cultural appropriation and Halloween into Google, you’ll find numerous articles on how to avoid appropriating the culture of others and what costumes not to wear. Although there have been endless articles educating those who are unsure, some people still don’t seem to have received the memo. The same goes to partaking in blackface, an ongoing issue that has never been appropriate and is universally frowned upon, yet we still hear of issues in the news where someone has been mistaken in thinking it would be an appropriate costume. It’s 2019. When will people learn that this practice is not on? It’s possible to dress as your idols, for example Barack Obama, without resorting to blackface.
ACanadian non-profit group ran by the students of Wilfrid Laurier University that call themselves, LSPIRG (Laurier Students’ Public Interest Research Group), run a campaign called #IAmNotACostume, where they work to raise awareness of cultural appropriation and how to avoid it. On their website they state, “appropriative costumes still perpetuate harmful stereotypes and contribute to the continuation of the violence and aggression towards marginalized folks”. Although they also don’t shame those who have appropriated in the past, they inform and state that you shouldn’t “sit in guilt. We need to attempt to do better by being accountable and educating ourselves”. I think there is a very small percentage of people that can say they haven’t accidentally appropriated another culture before, therefore rather than to feel this guilt it is better to educate yourself and others to avoid doing so again. With more people feeling comfortable enough to state they have been offended by certain costumes, rather than shame them for feeling this discomfort, we need to work as allies and support them.
Cultural appropriation is of course one of the main issues that stems from Halloween, but it isn’t the only issue. Halloween is a holiday that popularises scary things and a common image and costume that arises during this spooky season is the Devil. This glorification of Satan can be upsetting for the Christian faith as he is seen as evil and a personification of hell. Therefore, by dressing up as a devil you could cause distress to other when it could be avoided.
Halloween itself represents all that is dark in the world whether that is through casting the devil in a positive light or perhaps through publicising the act of witchcraft. Although this is not how the holiday began. Halloween was originally referred to as All Hallows’ Eve as it falls the day before All Hallows’ Day an event that was formally a part of the Christian calendar. On this day the Church would hold a vigil for worshippers to prepare themselves for a feast on All Hallows’ Day through fasting and prayer. Through the years Halloween has turned from tradition to commercialisation, a holiday which centres around selling as many products to consumers as possible. As a result of this change in tradition it has turned a Christian celebration into something they feel strongly against celebrating. This is due to the emphasis on witchcraft and satanic rituals, and the bible states in Ephesians 5:11, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.”Although this sense of darkness is what we associate with Halloween today, which is how the event has been commercialised in recent years.
The amount of money spent on Halloween increases annually due to the growing pressure to celebrate the holiday due to American influence on society. According to Metro, 60% of the millennial demographic spent money on Halloween in 2016. Is this a result of the increase in visibility and celebration of the holiday during their upbringing, or is it a consequence of the societal need to make everything an occasion to dress up and drink alcohol? Annually, there is an increase in the influence Halloween has over pop culture in the likes of new horror films and Halloween-themed music. As consumers we feed into the corporate desire to dispatch unnecessary Halloween goods especially in terms of sweets, pumpkins and decorations. This could then potentially put low income families in a difficult position as they struggle to participate in this commercialised date in the calendar.
Therefore, we must ask ourselves does Halloween cause more harm than good? This Americanised holiday has only recently become a commercial sales point in the UK, as you would never hear of children trick or treating, or of big Halloween parties some decades ago. Is this necessity to make money from commercial holidays like Halloween, from buying decorations and costumes feeding into this horror? Perhaps, we as consumers should spend more time thinking about the effects of Halloween on those around us and our own personal spending patterns. In terms of causing offense to others in choosing costumes, as a society ought to do more to educate the younger generations on which costumes could be considered problematic, to ensure that in future we hear less and less about cases of cultural appropriation and of costumes which offend religious people. Maybe, if this is achieved then the only horrors of Halloween would be the hangovers the next day.