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Oregon Family Magazine

Season of the Weird and Creepy

10/05/2022 ● By Rick Epstein
“If your head was cut off, could you still talk?” Five-year-old Sally, who carries Halloween in her heart year-round, was tapping into the paternal store of vital information.

“No, for two reasons,” I replied. “First, you’d be dead. Second, your lungs need to be hooked up in order to push air through your voice-box,” I said, pointing to my adam’s apple. “It’d be like a harmonica that has no one blowing through it.”  

“Could you eat?” Sally asked.

 “No,” I said, finding the picture of an eating head considerably more repulsive than a talking head. I don’t know what prompted these questions, except that at the moment, we were lunching together in the kitchen – talking and eating. This was actually just one in Sally’s series of hearings on decapitation and head injury.

Although the conversation took place a couple of months ago (during a family vacation when I was available to answer Sally’s questions full-time), I’ll be expecting additional gruesome questions during October’s month-long run-up to Halloween. Witches, devils, skeletons, ghosts, zombies, vampires and Frankenstein’s monster all are likely to excite Sally’s curiosity about their origins, attitudes and capabilities. She may already know something about werewolves: When her big sister Marie complained about a bully in her third-grade class, Sally made a serious suggestion: “Just tell him your father is a wolf.” (Marie, either suspecting mockery or influenced by a full moon, gave her a baleful look and growled, “Stop it, Sally!”)

Both girls have asked me if ghosts are real. “I don’t think so,” is my official policy on the matter, so now they don’t think so either. Sally, who is always asking me to tell her about the “old days,” knows all about white bedsheets that you could cut eye-holes into to make a ghost costume – an option you don’t have when all your old bedsheets have pictures of Hello Kitty or SpongeBob on them.

When Marie was 4, a neighbor child got her all stirred up by telling her, “Halloween is Satan’s birthday and if you dress up, you are honoring him.” Marie was not completely squared away on Satan, but at that age she was ready to sell her soul for any opportunity to snap on a pointy hat and sing “Happy Birthday.” We had to let her down easy.

Purists of all kinds have problems with the celebration of holidays; they are days when the things some people hold sacred come into contact with other people who don’t hold them so sacred. Thus you have Dec. 25 with more Santa than Jesus, Hanukkah beefed-up to compete with Christmas, and the birthdays of Washington and Lincoln lumped into one handy Monday called Presidents Day. And some people believe that certain holidays, such as Columbus Day and Halloween, ought to be wiped right off the calendar.

Halloween never was Satan’s birthday, but it may have been his New Year’s Eve party. Halloween is descended from religious observances of the Celts 2,000 years ago in England and vicinity. They believed that on the evening of Oct. 31, the end of their year, the souls of the departed came home to visit. The Celts lit bonfires, burned live animals and wore costumes made of animal skins and heads. (Bobbing for apples came later.) The Christian church introduced All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1) in the 800s, and later All Souls’ Day (Nov. 2) as more subdued festivals of the dead.

Even though Celtic theology seems to have petered out, a trace of their dark partying spirit lingers on in Halloween’s traditional air of spookiness. It’s a time for children to indulge their natural fascination with the weird and creepy, and that doesn’t bother me much.

A certain amount of ghoulish fascination in a child is no unwholesome thing – surveying the twilight frontier between life and death, and wondering about the natural and the supernatural, are facets of the great exploratory process that is a child’s full-time job. A young mind is a searchlight that will shine into any dark place, and Halloween presents several places like that. Childhood is being wasted on any kid who would look at a mummy and not want to unwrap it.

Rick Epstein can be reached at [email protected]