As a child, I loved Halloween and would look forward to it for weeks. Once I had decided on a costume, my mother began working away in her little sewing room. She was inventive; she could refashion clothing we had outgrown, scraps of extra fabric and previous costumes into something that satisfied my childhood imagination. As my costume took shape, my anticipation grew. In the days leading up to Halloween, I would race home from school to check on my mother’s progress. Each day I hoped my costume would be ready. When the big night finally arrived, I could barely contain my excitement.
Trick or treating was great fun. We would we traipse around the neighbourhood, often trudging through the first snowfall of the season, using pillowcases for candy sacks. For weeks afterward we consumed the haul of goodies that simultaneously satisfied and intensified our craving for treats.
The goodies, delicious as they were, were secondary to my love affair with Halloween. The thing I most enjoyed was masquerading. When I put on that costume, I assumed a new persona: childhood angst melted away. When I put on that costume, my dreams became reality, the sky was the limit. It was a grand feeling!
The next morning I always felt a little sad. While I would
have liked to pretend a bit longer, my loving, but organized mother laundered,
folded and stowed my costume at the back of a closet. By the afternoon
of Nov. 1, my costume was a sweet memory. It was time to “get real.” It
was time to be me.
GETTING REAL — Children love Halloween because it’s freeing to be able to dress up and assume a new persona, writes Louise McEwan (who is the clown in the photo). As grown-ups “we ‘get real’ when we shed our costumes, stop masquerading and focus on the content of our personhood.”
Halloween served a useful purpose in my childhood, other than the obvious benefit of free candy. It fired my imagination about myself, and about whom I could become. Being able to pretend helped me discover myself, reshape my dreams and accept the realities of life.
Paradoxically, pretending helped me be real.
It is easy to become distracted from being real. As we outgrow the Halloween of childhood, our pretenses as adults may become increasingly elaborate. We may succumb to any number of cultural influences that tempt us away from self-discovery and self-acceptance.
Consumerism and the beauty industry are two societal influences that entice us into participating in a masquerade and encourage us to court falsehoods about ourselves. Consumerism convinces us that our wants are needs, and pressures us to purchase items we can ill afford. When we should be reaching out to others or facing up to our financial realities, the culture of consumerism goads us into spending on ourselves. Meanwhile, the culture of beauty sings its anti-aging siren song, deluding us into a superficial denial of our own mortality.
While there is nothing innately wrong with possessions and looking our best, perseverating on these externals can make us superficial and self-centred. Our preoccupation with ourselves begins to sap our resources and energy. We have little left to give others because we are consumed with our cravings. The externals are like sugar-laden Halloween treats: just when we think we have eaten our fill, we find ourselves craving more.
Eventually, our focus on externals makes us unhappy. Since there will always be new stuff available for purchase and since the signs of aging are inevitable, we may feel perpetually dissatisfied. The fact that there will always be someone with better stuff and someone better looking, may make us feel we do not measure up. We may feel unworthy unless we are costumed to participate in society’s elaborate masquerade.
When this happens, we are no longer real; we are pretending. We have replaced the splendid homespun Halloween costumes of our childhood with luxury vehicles, magnificent houses, runway fashions and a fraudulent idea of beauty. We confuse the content of our personhood with the quality of our stuff and our physical attractiveness. We need a loving mother to make us take off our Halloween costume and to nudge us toward confidently showing the world our resplendent selves.
We long for loving mother figures in our lives to reassure us that we are loved and loveable even without the grandiose masquerade. Love gives us the courage to strip away the externals. Love empowers us to discover the beauty within. Love gently leads us to accept our realities, and encourages us to dream in life-giving ways.
Trail, BC resident Louise McEwan is a freelance religion columnist. She has a background in education and catechesis, and degrees in English and theology. She blogs at www.faithcolouredglasses.blogspot.com. Contact her at email@example.com