In Horrifying Times, the Haunting Season Is More Important Than Ever

This is Halloween

Photo by John Anderson

We've always known this time of year is a strange one. As winter draws near in the Northern hemisphere, tradition after tradition has marked this season as the time to adjust our eyes to the darkness. Neolithic tombs were sometimes lined up with the rising sun, as if to summon those who had gone on back into the day. The Celts had Samhain, its exact roots lost but now a festival of bonfires and masks. Christianity set Allhallowtide, the days between All Saints and All Souls, for remembrance of those in the afterlife. The Romans marked Feralia as the time to honor the passing of the dead, while this was also a special season for the wood nymph Pomona, who cared for the fruiting trees, and whose pruning knife cut away the dead wood to ensure the living could thrive.

Photo by Jana Birchum

And now we have modern Halloween and Día de los Muertos, two celebrations of the worlds of the living and the dead that both draw on older legacies (think carving a pumpkin is hard? Growing up in the North of England, I hacked at a turnip with a carving knife). We embrace the eerie and arcane, as study after study has shown that people become stronger from being terrified. Not simply from the adrenaline rush of a good jump scare, but the long-term benefits of facing your fears – or even just fear – in a controlled setting. If you can say boo to a fake ghost, then maybe the horrors of the real world are a little bit more manageable. Again, this is something we understand instinctually. Halloween is a big business ($8.8 billion spent in 2019), and the darker the times the more we are drawn to light jack-o'-lanterns to dispel the shadows. And these are such dark times that we need this season as much as we ever have.

Photo by David Brendan Hall

We've all also become used to this being such a communal time, and the coronavirus has made so much of what has become commonplace impossible. Yet that's why we need to remember tradition. This is not about going to gigs in costume or parading down Sixth Street in your best fancy dress. You can still tell spooky stories, or watch a good, old-fashioned scary movie. You can take some of Food Editor Jessi Cape's tips for deliciously ghoulish treats; get pumpkin-carving advice from award-winning chain saw artist Griffon Ramsey; listen to locally made podcasts about Austin's ethereal residents or the twisted genius of horror master Stephen King; or see some of the most incredible home haunts, all conjured from the brilliant, warped minds of your community. This is Halloween, and it is ours.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Richard Whittaker
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Chain Sold to Sony Pictures Entertainment
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Chain Sold to Sony Pictures Entertainment
Hollywood studio pledges to keep the Drafthouse model going

June 12, 2024

Austin Film Festival to Honor <i>Shōgun</i> Writers
Austin Film Festival to Honor Shōgun Writers
UT alum Rachel Kondo and husband Justin Marks lauded for FX hit

June 11, 2024


Halloween 2020

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle