There’s no shortage of frightening things in 2020. This is the year that gave us a horrible global pandemic and the stressful new routines of physical distancing that come with it, murder hornets, double hurricanes, the worst economic crash since the Great Depression, locust swarms, and the most agonizingly awful US election cycle in my lifetime, to name only a few. With all of these awful things overwhelming our usual means of coping, it’s natural that people will look for ways of blowing off steam.
Holidays that let us shed some of the usual rules of polite society are one way people can get a break from the stresses of life. “Festivals of reversal,” as they are sometimes called, can be a psychological release as we get to leave ourselves behind for a day and become someone else. Halloween is one of the best examples of such a holiday for much of modern US culture, a day when the normal rules are relaxed, when adults get to be childish and children get to take candy from strangers.
This year, Halloween falls on a Saturday. What’s more, that night will have a full moon providing plenty of light for nighttime revels. In an ordinary year, that combination would set us up for some wild shenanigans on Halloween night. I’d be stocking the candy bowl and keeping an eye out for mischievous young hooligans.
But this is no ordinary year. This year, big parties and nighttime rule-breaking are more than just a neighborhood nuisance; they could spread deadly disease, overwhelm already stressed hospital systems, and leave a death toll in their wake. Halloween 2020 presents a concentrated version of the dilemma that has dogged us all year: the things we need most to psychologically endure this crisis—distraction from the reality around us, uninhibited human contact, an escape from stringent social rules—are the very things that prolong the crisis and make it more deadly.
I sympathize a lot with anyone who feels like they need the little vacation from daily life that Halloween offers, but I’m frightened of the consequences. Stay spooky, everyone, but stay safe, too.
Here there be opinions!