We all know about ‘Halloween’. To a majority of us in India – it means themed costume parties, spooky decor, themed food and drinks. We also know about trick or treating and jack-o-lanterns, although we’ve seen more of that on TV than actually being part of it. But how much of this commercialisation actually measures up to what Halloween truly stands for? And why is it even important to us?

I grew up in a Christian home and went to a Christian school, so distinguishing people was fairly simple, they were either good or bad. And like Eve, Satan would send us temptations in the form of serpents, or even beautiful deceitful beings that lurked around you. Like most children, I believed we would face the consequences of our actions on ‘judgement day’ where we would either be assigned to heaven or hell.  Note that at this point no one thought it important to tell a child about ‘purgatory’, ‘atheism’ or details about any grey area concerned.

Good and bad didn’t just end with a person’s morality and deeds. It somehow was also linked to the way you dressed, spoke, the interests you had and the beliefs you kept. Now obviously to quite a few senior people of Christian faith, anything that involved black cats, skulls, ouija boards, witches, was Antichrist. And as we all know, Halloween is still the most important festival for occult and witchcraft practitioners.

If you think of it in a general sense, days that are dedicated to death are sad days, but Halloween is the opposite. It involves dressing up, putting on parades and hosting parties. It’s easier for anyone to tell their child that we celebrate a God’s birthday or the triumph of good over evil. But how do you explain a day where we get together to celebrate the dead?

Halloween is said to be a pagan festival, that later found its place in Christianity. It was at this time that first world countries popularised ‘all hallows eve’. In time, people began to celebrate Halloween in ways even they aren’t aware of, they made it happier and fun so children wouldn’t get too spooked.

Even as an Indian family, on November 1st and 2nd, my family always insisted that we go to church for All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Both, celebrations in honour of the dead. Coincidence? Not really. Mexicans celebrate Dia de Los Muertos, translated as Day of the dead, from October 31st to November 3rd, where they visit cemeteries and pray of souls of the dead. This is practised similarly in Brazil on November 2nd as Finados. In Guatemala, the same is done on November 1st. There is a long list that follows in addition to this and so many ways that explore Halloween for what it really is.

For years, I’ve tried to find my balance between the fun commercial Halloween and the meaningful Halloween and I still haven’t found it. In the 2 years I’ve been at Whoa Mama, I’ve even dressed to work. Is it for fun? Probably! This year I even began working on “Drawlloween”, which is the Halloween version of Inktober. Do I believe in a veil that falls down between our world and the underworld on that day? I do, but I also believe that spirits roam the earth every day. And the only reason I cherish Halloween is that it is a day for me to celebrate the mystery of death and remember the loved ones I’ve lost.

You see, the world is no stranger to Halloween. So even if you’ve had someone tell you that it’s a fun commercial festival with no meaning behind it or if they tell you that it is the Wiccan New Year and therefore you ought not to celebrate it. I implore you to dig up the festival’s history and maybe even your cultural roots, you’ll be amazed at how beautiful the symbolism of Halloween can be.

Featuring original art by Sashank Manohar