Think Halloween is just some Americanised tosh? Think again. Rachel Fairburn is a massive fan of celebrating life by celebrating what might lurk after it.
Actually, you don’t, because I just made it up to the tune of Andy Williams’ famous Christmas song and it’s pretty bad. Or maybe keep singing it, because I don’t think there are enough Halloween songs and there definitely should be, because I truly think All Hallows’ Eve is the best day in our calendar.
As soon as the leaves begin vacating the trees, nights draw in and the weather gets cooler I start getting twinges of excitement because I know Halloween is near, creeping up on us like some tedious idiot dressed as a clown.
It’s been my favourite day since I was young. I was an only child for six years (halcyon days) and my mum always made a big fuss of Halloween. I’d have some sort of costume – usually a witch – cobbled together from stuff procured from around the house: old clothes, my gran’s makeup and a school-made pointy hat.
I liked to complete the look by dragging our pet cat into the excitement. (My attitude to family pets as a kid was very similar to that of Elmyra Duff in Looney Tunes, so I’d like to send a posthumous apology to Pearl, Pequod, Ben and Fat Bob – my childhood pets, not members of East 17 – and thank them for being good sports. I know the scratches were affectionate.)
It’s still exciting for me as I’ve always had a fascination with the macabre. I think it all started when I noticed a book belonging to my grandad called ‘Orrible Murder: Victorian Crime and Passion, a compilation of sensational stories from Victorian magazine, The Illustrated Police News. It had a skeleton in a shroud on the back cover and this attracted my attention. After some serious tantrum throwing, he let me have a look at it to “keep me quiet”.
I couldn’t read the stories as I was too young but the gory pictures kept me enthralled. Leafing through the illustrations of dreadful orphanage fires, murderous escaped gorillas and apparitions of victims appearing to their murderers is one of my earliest memories. (I also remember having to take part in a tap and ballet show at the Davenport Theatre and I can assure you that was more traumatic than anything I saw in ‘Orrible Murder. I still shudder on hearing Ballerina Girl by Lionel Richie. I’ve never been able to dance and 300 people witnessed the fact that night in Stockport in 1989.)
There are some people that believe Halloween is yet another Americanisation – it’s not. It’s celebrated across the globe in various forms and has been for hundreds of years; Americans just do it bigger and better.
I’m no fan of Americanisation. It irks me that in recent years takeaways have become take outs, flats have become apartments and most vaginas have become hairless, but an Americanised Halloween isn’t so terrible.
It’s led to better costumes, bigger parties and a wealth of skull-shaped nonsense to buy in supermarkets. It’s ultimately more fun. Don’t get me wrong, America can keep its gun laws, crazy billionaires and tasteless chocolate but I’ll take their Halloween spirit any day. (Ha! I wrote ‘spirit’!)
The main reason I love Halloween is because I love being scared and if I’m honest, scaring me is easy. For a woman who watches horror films, reads true crime and loves a good ghost story, I’m terrified of my own shadow. That’s the point though: it’s a time of year to be scared of things we know don’t exist.
There are no zombies, no ghosts, vampires or werewolves. We’re just pretending because real people and situations are more terrifying than we could ever make up (I should know, I do a podcast about serial killers). Halloween is as much a celebration of the human imagination as it is of death and the macabre.
We love ghosts, zombies and vampires because, ultimately, they are a symbol of life after death. A grim symbol but a sliver of hope nonetheless. I imagine most humans would rather become a supernatural being, even a stinking zombie, than face the reality of an eternity of absolutely nothing.
I’m having a party this year. You should too. Get your costumes on, bob for apples, trick or treat and drink red wine pretending it’s virgin’s blood. Dress as something imaginary, undead or dead and celebrate being alive. It’s a right bloody laugh and so it should be. Memento Mori.
Footnote: If you do have a party, don’t sing that song I made up. You’ll be as embarrassed as I was at that dance show in 1989.
Check out Rachel and Kiri Pritchard-McLean’s dead good podcast, All Killa No Filla here.
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Rachel Fairburn is a stand-up comic, co-host of the All Killa No Filla podcast and lover of leopard print.