Beyond the Tricks and Treats: Finding Truth on Halloween

Today is Sunday, October 30, 2016. Even though Halloween is still one day away, by tomorrow, I have already celebrated it 5 times over.

  • Wednesday, I celebrated Halloween by watching a bit of the office’s children’s Halloween parade. I’m biased, but my boss’ angelic one-year-old girl as a bumblebee was certainly the most adorable tot in the lineup.
  • Thursday, I humored the “grown up” Halloween festivities at the office, where more than half of the 3,000 people in the building ended up dressing up, myself included, as a tiger. In an office full of engineers (and therefore a ton of Star Wars, Pokemon, and Game of Thrones costumes) I’ll remember the engineer who defied convention in his costume by walking around with a Union Jack shirt and an Exit sign around his neck. Get it? #brexit
  • Friday, I endured Halloween on my Lyft home from dinner, as my driver plowed through side streets teeming with costumed masses waiting to get into trashy Theater District clubs. Were I not completely cold and exhausted, I would have loved get in line to talk to the guy dressed up like a box of Crayola crayons. I’ve just never seen that costume before. 
  • Saturday, I went to an actual Halloween party, where the best costume were a pair of friends dressed like the Boston subway stops Alewife and Brainstree (as in one was a wife bearing ale and a tree with an exposed brain. I'll never think about the Red Line the same way ever again).
  • This morning, I watched hungover college student-zombies fill their baskets at CVS with Gatorade and Tylenol, as I bought the store out of its clearance Halloween candy to use for Christmas baking. 

For all the Halloween fatigue I’m experiencing, I’m generally a fan of costumed holidays. My favorite holiday—bar none— is the Jewish holiday, Purim. Most people don’t what it is, but many have implicitly “celebrated” it by eating a Hamentaschen cookie (which looks like this) at some point in their lives. Similar to Halloween, it’s a day for children to dress up and eat sweets, and for adults to sometimes dress up, and definitely drink up. Unlike Halloween, Purim has a pretty sophisticated story behind it, and the holiday places as much emphasis on merriment and self-indulgence as on charity and giving to others. Still, barely 2% of the U.S. population is Jewish and even in a city like Boston, which has strong pockets of Jewish people, it looks pretty weird to see people out in costume in March, when Purim tends to fall. 

The thing I like the most about Purim and Halloween and that I have thought about much in the last few days is how holidays like these give us a judgment-free pass to be somebody else for the day (or longer, depending on how long you and your friends celebrate). Whatever we choose to wear on an ordinary day showcases our personality in some way, but on Halloween, we can take that self-expression to an extreme. Take away the alcohol—Halloween as a holiday is a social lubricant. We can feel safe enough to show pieces of ourselves that, for whatever reason, we don’t feel comfortable showcasing on every other night of the year. I’d argue that the people who dress up in costume are more themselves than the people who go to a party and say “This year, I’m being myself.”* 

I always think of the line from the movie ‘Mean Girls’: “Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.” I have to say that girls who do that should be able to dress and express themselves however they wish: I don’t like when girls dress a certain way for the attention of men when it’s coming from a place of feeling inadequate and craving validation but am fully in favor of women dressing a certain way if it’s coming from a place of confidence and empowerment. Are you a woman who feels like her sexuality has no outlet to express itself or is otherwise under lock and key? By all means, channel your Dita von Teese or Pamela Anderson, and be yourself on this night for the first time, when it’s safe to be “somebody else.” 

Last year, I was Holly Golightly and Carmen Sandiego—the classically glamorous silver-screen socialite and the sexy, sleuthing, mysterious globetrotter. In previous years, I was Wonder Woman and Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games—two powerful, headstrong heroines, leading and fighting for justice in their respective stories and on an American media stage historically dominated by male heroes. This year, at the office, I was a tiger—not my most inspired costume, but it was tremendously joyful day holding team meetings that included a panda, a cow, a sloth, a chipmunk, and a giraffe, and going out for lunch at one of Boston’s highest-traffic malls in an animal onesie. But even choosing to be a tiger served another purpose beyond being part of a team costume and getting to use that costume again for a college reunion. They’re smart, beautiful, regal, a little fearsome, and “solitary-but-social” animals. What I think about these costumes inevitably says something about me. Wearing them is a way that I express how I think about myself, what I aspire to be, and how I want other people to think about me. 

It’s a holiday that makes me wonder about all the ways in which I hide in plain sight from people about how I really am. Last weekend, I got into an argument with my dad about politics, and I never felt more myself and in a state of flow than when exchanging blows. He’s an aggressive lawyer with forty-plus years of court under his belt, and I have spent much of my life simultaneously arguing against him and trying to please him and have him be proud of me. Anyway, when we debated, I was confident and full of conviction when speaking to him and explaining my beliefs, even if exposing those beliefs put me at risk of making him angry to the point of him kicking me out of the house. In the company of friends and coworkers, I wish my I could express my voice so strongly on other topics about which I feel passionate. I generally have a strong perspective on many things but hesitate to share it for fear being disliked, ruffling feathers, losing friends. Sometimes this voice comes out in writing, and I’m doing better to have it come out more in writing and outside of it. That strength of voice and opinion is something that deeply defines who I am and what I value and like about myself, but it’s not something that people really see much from me or that I allow to come out. I believe this is true for many others as it is for me.

So this year, if you’re going out (again), I encourage you to pay attention to what you wear and what your friends are wearing and what typically-hidden thing people around you are choosing to show about themselves for the night. If you decide to get psychoanalytical about it, there’s a lot you can learn about people by observing what people chose to be. Even the person dressed up like a hot dog because it was the only thing that they could borrow at short notice or get in time for Halloween with Prime shipping. 

I hope you’ll take advantage of the night to fully express yourself and find the courage to show a little more of your costumed self on the other days of the year.

Happy Halloween!

*Unless the person doing that is a new-age-y friend who’s stoned or tripping on something else. Then it’s more likely they’re being themselves.