I have always loved Halloween, with its overabundance of sugary sweets and miniature chocolate bars.
As the holiday has evolved from a Celtic festival and a Christian holy day, it has moved away from its religious roots. The ancient Celts honoured their ancestors and tried to ward off evil spirits by wearing masks and costumes on the same day, November 1, as Christians commemorated the dead and prayed for their spirits.
Halloween is a modern version of both of these that has come to include trick-or-treating, wearing costumes, carving jack-o-lanterns, telling ghost stories and watching horror films.
The imagery of modern Halloween derives mainly from works of Gothic and horror literature as well as classic horror films. Themes of evil, the occult, magic and mythical creatures are prevalent. These can be seen in shops and restaurants decorated with images of ghosts, witches, skeletons, vampires, black cats and the like.
My exposure to Halloween came from going to American schools while I was growing up, and I never went trick-or-treating until I moved to New York. But by then I felt a bit too old and I only chaperoned my little brothers. Even so, trick-or-treating in the Big Apple from one uninviting apartment to another doesn't compare to going door-to-door across moonlit neighbourhoods full of elaborately decorated homes.
Halloween parties are the biggest events around the end of October, whether you are in Abu Dhabi or New York, as pop culture and marketing have swelled the appeal of the day. The older I get the more fascinated I become with this holiday as I watch grown people behave even more foolishly than children behind the relative anonymity that their costumes provide.
Halloween from a psychological perspective is the day of the id (the component of the psyche that Freud believed to operate seeking pleasure and avoiding pain). It's a day when it's acceptable to eat as many sweets as we want, run amok in the streets, place gravestones and witches on our lawns, and dress in wild costumes. It is also said that the id is partially composed of our forbidden wishes and desires.
Thus I've taken much pleasure trying to psychoanalyse the costume choices of my friends. There has got to be a reason one chooses to dress as Lady Gaga or a pirate.
Just as it is OK to bellow out crude and antagonistic chants during football games, or scream at rock shows, Halloween has become another excuse to act out and act up. In our increasingly structured society, where we must exert proper control over our emotions, we're always finding acceptable arenas to blow off primal steam and experience adrenaline and danger - even if the risk of real harm has been removed.
The way I see it there is no danger in tapping into our scary side. Even if we don't experience Halloween as it began centuries ago - as a day to commemorate the dead - exposure to the idea of death so we can understand what it is to be alive is a good thing. Being confronted with evil and nastiness, even in jest for one day, can help us recalibrate what it means to be good. There is no harm in playing the villain for one night, since Halloween is one of the few opportunities we have to encounter and inhabit these archetypal characters.
My mother was never one for scary things and still can't comprehend the adoration my sister and I have for vampire films, novels and television shows. But I've always thought that a little bit of supernatural was good for the soul.