Holly jolly Halloween gives Christmas heave-ho-ho-ho

A Gargoyle at the gates of Eastern State Penitentiary's
 'Terror Behind The Walls.' Courtesy Krystle Marcellus

Even with kids jingle belling, and everyone telling you to be of good cheer - when friends come to call - Christmas is no longer the most wonderful time of the year. Instead, with kids trick-or-treating and everyone telling you to have a good fear - when maniac killers come to call – now Halloween is the most wonderful season of all.

Andy Williams may have been right when he sang about Christmas in 1963’s “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” but Pumpkin King Jack Skellington has since taken over as grandmaster because when it comes to the “it” holiday to celebrate, black (and orange) is the new green and red.

In 2006, ABC News reported the season had become the second-biggest decorating holiday of the year. Plus, retailers have come to rely on the season as a precursor to Christmas and the best chance to improve sales numbers between back-to-school time and Dec. 25 with costumes, candy, party supplies and decorations, reported The Birmingham News in 2010.

On the popular culture landscape, October is a primo time for networks and movie studios to get their
hooks into audiences with, as Williams sang, “scary ghost stories” and terrifying fare. On television, FX unleashed its haunted house soap opera American Horror Story - a Twin Peaks meets The Shining freaktastic show from the mind of Ryan Murphy (Glee, Nip/Tuck) – on Oct. 5. Also, AMC’s zombie drama The Walking Dead returned for a second season on Oct. 16 with very high expectations, and the new fairy tale-inspired show Grimm premieres on Oct. 28. In film, Paranormal Activity 3 will continue the found footage franchise when it is released in theaters Oct. 21. And the gonzo horror-comedy Butterfinger the 13th, directed by actor Rob Lowe and featuring, yes, the candy bar, was unwrapped on Oct. 13.

Further, when the entertainment industry as a whole is hurting for new ideas, Halloween is a season to roll out re-releases familiar fare and recaps for easy ratings or box office receipts. The 1984 hit Ghostbusters will be re-released in theaters on Oct. 13, and every Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th installments get time on the cable channels in October. The Syfy Channel and sister channel Chiller is featuring "31 Days of Halloween” where the networks air new and classic horror films, along with special such as "Horror’s Creepiest Kids" on Oct. 28 which intersperses movie clips with celebrity interviews to allow audiences to reminisce about past scares.

Yet while these facts show an effect of Halloween as an increasingly popular holiday, they don’t explain why it has become so. It seems easy to suggest that a season characterized by the supernatural, magic, maniacs and scary good times is so fun because it allows us to find a catharsis for our real world fears in some unreal ones. Sure, that does sound pretty good; when the economy and environment both seem to facing disaster - as our government seems to stare on vapidly like a lethargic zombie - entertainment about the devouring undead seems downright light and airy. But the greater reason Halloween might be taking the lead over Christmas is the October holiday is a chance for kids to be kids, and a chance for adults to be even bigger kids.

First off, there’s the dressing up. One only need look at any local comic book convention to see that no one ever really outgrows the desire to get into costume. Actual children are allowed to wear a cowboy hat on a Spider-Man costume in their everyday life, but such attire is frowned upon by grown-up society – even though most grown-ups are itching to let their inner Cowboy Spider-Man out. So outside of San Diego Comic-Con or other similar events, Halloween is the only time an adult can rock a cape and latex horror makeup or show some skin as a slutty super hero/vampire/nurse/Raggedy-Ann/etc. The difference is at a con it’s called cosplay, but at Halloween it’s “seasonal.”

Keeping with the big kid theme, Halloween also allows adults to be selfish, indulgent monsters – you know, like most toddlers. Instead of encouraging the spirit of god-bless-us-everyone goodwill and sharing, October is when people can get sick on junk food, party it up and not give a darn about what the rest of the extended family is up to. With the exception of parents who have to take the kids trick-or-treating, there isn’t anyone to answer to on Halloween. The costume is a choice; the decision to go out or stay in is yours, as is the number of candy corn you wash down with a UFO Pumpkin beer. Whereas December is about striving to be the best human we can be, October is about unleashing the id and being the worst.

Of course, the elimination of many economic hardships during the Halloween season also makes it an up-and-comer against Christmas. It is far easier to come up with a simple costume and manageable party plan than it is to figure out how to afford gifts for an entire family and social circle, or how to come up with enough money to travel to see them.

The decorations are also cooler. Visiting a Christmas village or festive, brightly-lit neighborhood can elicit a sweet “aww” or even a teary emotional response, but that rarely equals the completely authentic screams a good haunted house attraction can cause. The things that bring people joy in December are fairly straightforward, but the things that terrify or unnerve us are deep and unending.

On a recent trip to Eastern State Penitentiary’s “Terror Behind The Walls” attraction in Philadelphia, the screaming attendees provided as much of a soundtrack as did the fake moans, growls and shouts of the funhouse performers. The emotional output at exhilarating attractions like Eastern State’s is three times as much as from a Christmas village; the moments of terror are preceded by anxiety and followed by joy, but Christmas cheer begins and ends with joy. Still, at the end of the day, there’s less emotional responsibility during Halloween as well. If you never get frightened during Halloween, it’s no big deal. But if you aren’t feeling the spirit in December, you’re labeled a Grinch.

Certainly the holiday season in Christmas won’t be going away anytime soon, nor should it. Halloween is just a simpler, easier holiday to celebrate. As Andy Williams sang, our hearts will be glowing when loved ones are near in December, but Halloween fear makes this the most wonderful time of the year.