Halloween is an unusual holiday, and I think I'd say that it's my favorite holiday. On Halloween we send children out in the night to collect candy from strangers while we hide from one another behind masks. On most holidays, we gather our families close and celebrate togetherness, but on Halloween, there's nearly no familial obligation and most people don't particularly care if you celebrate or not.

If I told you that Halloween many years ago began as a harvest festival, I'm sure you'd believe me. Not because this reflects the history of the holiday, but because on its face it probably wouldn't surprise anyone. The color palettes give us red blood and red apples, big green gourds and little green men, monsters and eggplants in deep shades of purple. The harvest brings in an abundance of food that you would want to share it with anyone in your community who dares to ask, as if it were candy on Halloween. Pumpkins. At least in North America, harvests and Halloween share a season with darkening skies, chilling air, and leaves losing their chlorophyll.

Even if it weren't true, it fits in with Halloween's theme of suspension of disbelief. When I stand before you and tell you I'm a spider, you don't judge me as much as you would on any other day. When she announces she's a robot, when they tell you he's a character from some movie you didn't care to see, when they says they're a vampire, these claims are not challenged. On this day they are allowed to be what they claim to be. So, on this same day Halloween could have began as a celebration of the vegetable fruits of our labours, because that's not nearly as unbelievable as anything else that is being claimed today. Let's place a Halloween mask on the celebration of the harvest.

There's plenty to say about masks. simple accessories which allow us to be something that we aren't, and simultaneously allow us to be exactly who we are. There's much to be said about masks, about anonymity, about shyness, but I'll save that for another time.

No, today, I'd like to talk about death.

It's hard to determine exactly how death shows its face during the harvest. Leaves lose their life, fall to the ground, and slowly begin to decompose. We pluck vegetables from the ground, cutting off their access to nutrients and energy. But neither of these properly captures a death: though the leaves disappear, the trees remain alive, and the air tastes of freshness and we all breathe just a little easier. Though we may pluck a pumpkin from the vine, each of its seeds represents an opportunity at new life. Some parts of the harvesting itself, I think, is the most confusing subversion of death. The lives of carrots and yams begin in their graves, and end when their resting spot is disturbed. The exhumation /is/ the killing.

If the harvest subverts death, then Halloween makes a gruesome costume of death by turning it inside-out. All Hallow's Eve, or All Saint's Eve, the progenitor of Halloween, is a feast in which you remember the departed saints and martyrs and the faithful, is all about death, and Halloween follows suit. But on Halloween, the saints become vampires, we exchange martyrs for ghosts, and the corpses of the faithful once again are harvested out of their graves as zombies. Any sense of mournful rememberance turns to tricks and treats.

Much of what we think of as a zombie comes from Haitian slave tradition, in which the zombie was revived to serve as a slave. The only fate more terrifying than death for a slave on Hispaniola was to be returned to life to continue existence as a slave. Vampires, tall, dark, and suave, offer a sanguine curse of immortality through sexy neck biting which for some reason we're supposed find scary and not seductive. As perhaps the most dualist Halloween menaces, ghosts roam their portion of the earth as souls detached, perhaps eternally barred from whatever lies beyond.

These characters offer Halloween a variety of existential horrors to ponder, but Halloween turns that on its head too. Through the subtle mechanisms of time, Halloween has transformed deep, visceral terrors into haunted house jump scares and other simple frights. Terror of death, of going into the unknown, becomes fright at being sliced in half or devoured. The terror of losing your loved ones or your sense of security becomes fright at losing your limbs or vital organs. No, on Halloween we give Death a mask and parade him around.

Halloween celebrates death like no other. Not like All Hallow's Eve from which it came, not like New Orleans jazz funerals, not like Día de los muertos. There is no memory, there is no family, there is no sorrow. There is only death. But, on Halloween, like the harvest, death does not have its usual face. In dead leaves and living trees, in dead bodies reanimated, through the exhuming harvest which provides nourishing food, through the immortal souls separate from mortal bodies, Halloween reminds us of the intimate codependence between life and death, how life defines death and how death structures life.

So, this Halloween, let's celebrate death not because it is life, but let's celebrate death for death itself.