The Fascination of Fear

Halloween.  We’ve all had our experiences with it.  Jack-o-lanterns and trick-or-treating and scary films, that sort of thing.  A celebration of the transition from summer to fall, a chance to look our fears in the face and, hopefully, realize they’re not as awful as we thought.

I like knowing how and why things start, so here are some of the things I know about historic Halloweens.

It originated from a variety of sources–the Celtic celebration of Samhain (pronounced saw-hin), the Christian All Saints’ Day, the old tradition of the poor to go to houses of the rich in fall, asking for food in exchange for prayers for the dead.  Now Dia de los Muertos, which happens the day after Halloween, is associated with the holiday as well.  Most of the holidays that combine to make Halloween were initially meant to remember and honor the dead.

This Halloween I’ll be remembering my great-grandfather, who passed away this week.  It doesn’t feel so much like he’s gone as that he’s not here at the moment, if that makes sense.

Something about this time of year just makes us think of death, which isn’t surprising.  Things start to die in fall, leaves turn color and fall off trees, and, my personal favorite, mosquitoes freeze and die and stop biting us for a few months.

It’s a time to bring in the harvest and prepare for winter.

But that doesn’t explain our fascination with the things that frighten us.  It doesn’t explain the way people seek out frightening situations like horror films and haunted houses.  Do they like being afraid?  I don’t.

But, like I said in my Discworld post, focusing on only one side of the emotional spectrum isn’t healthy.  We need the catharsis of experiencing fear, if only to maintain our balance.  Fear is a part of life, and death is too, and ignoring them won’t make them go away.  So instead we’ve built a celebration for them.

All that said, I much prefer to be the scare-er than the scare-ee.  That’s why I’m dressing as a certain Marvel hero/assassin this weekend and doing my level best to terrify the kids at my school’s haunted house and the church trunk-or-treat–nicely, of course.

Stay safe and have fun.  Happy Halloween.

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