Letters from the Editor: Matters of life and death
One of the charming things about the university is how my social media feed blows up with pictures of costumes, makeup, and party decorations when Halloween rolls around. The sheer enthusiasm for the spookiest day of the year warms my heart a little, especially because I have such a fondness for it.
I was, admittedly, a weird kid growing up, and it probably didn’t help that I was uniquely fascinated with concepts of death and the afterlife. These are topics most kids don’t entrench themselves in until at least high school (the terror!). Halloween was, for me, more than just the opportunity for free candy.
I was also entranced by the idea that the dead could be watching over us or keeping in contact with a world they had departed—recently or ages ago. That we could represent such other-worldly communications, both imitating and memorializing the dead, for one day of the year suggests to me a social need to remember those we’ve lost—to cast a pale light on the ghosts of our collective memory.
“The origins of trick or treating and dressing up were in the 16th century in Ireland, Scotland and Wales where people went door-to-door in costume asking for food in exchange for a poem or song,” Isabelle Fraser wrote in an article for The Telegraph this year. “Many dressed up as souls of the dead and were understood to be protecting themselves from the spirits by impersonating them.”
There’s something largely communal about our relationship with our long-gone loved ones. Personally, I use this holiday to reflect on the people I’ve lost and the ones I’m grateful to still have. It’s no less celebratory, but I do try to remember my dearly departed when I’m unwrapping their favorite candy or blowing out a jack-o-lantern at midnight.
The dead aren’t all that scary; they’ve left me with precious memories of family and friends. For me, a crucial part of this holiday is the remembrance and celebration of those who have left an indelible impact on me. I think, in some way, that is true for many others who celebrating on Oct. 31.
At its heart, Halloween is still a community activity for people looking to share in food and tradition with each other, even if we’ve lost the original intent over time. In our campus community in particular, there’s this phenomenal energy surrounding the holiday—something that feels particularly Alaskan to me.
We dress up and turn out in below-freezing temperatures, kids painstakingly have their costumes shoved over snowsuits, and there’s bound to be a snowman somewhere with a witch’s pointed hat haphazardly perched atop its head. These are all symbols of that universal fascination with the idea that perhaps something or someone awaits us after death and that, in the mean time, we should celebrate our lives, whether we’re drinking at The Pub or snuggling down at home.
The fog and snow are now beginning to settle in, and it’s gearing up to be a cold, creepy Halloween in Fairbanks. I hope you enjoy the season as much as I do. Take a look around; find something to remember.