Halloween and Karneval – Opposites attract.

Polite zombies give up their seats for moody princesses on the bus. Fireworks zoom through the night. Kids rejoice on a sugar-high. Halloween has come to Vancouver.

Halloween is the second biggest Holiday in North America (only Christmas brings more business). The festival’s origin lies in a Celtic tradition. On Samhain (a time ‘in between the years’ of the Celtic calendar), the veil separating the world of the living and the netherworld was supposed to be at its thinnest. Therefore, the Celts disguised themselves and lit fires, hoping to disperse evil spirits. When they were converted to Christianity, the church paired this pagan fest with All Saints’ Day, and Samhain became All Hallow’s Eve. From then on, the 31st of October served as a memento mori – a reminder of your mortality. Instead of playing tricks on shadows, people began to play tricks on their neighbors (and burning down each other’s barns on occasion).

Irish immigrants brought Halloween to the USA, where it later spread to Canada. Since the original Halloween spectacle with creepy costumes and devious tricks was not family friendly enough for post-war North America, the holiday became a carnival with a pinch of gruesome. Indeed, modern Halloween costumes are not that different from German Karneval costumes, while creepy costumes become more and more popular on Karneval. It seems, in the last years the line between Karneval and Halloween has become more and more blurry.

The origin of German Karneval could not be more opposite to Halloween. Here, Catholics let it all hang out, before the ascetic time of lent begins. In the fifth season, as the Karneval-goers call it, the fools reign – and they are not shy of speaking what is on their mind. The open critique of politicians and social issues is an integral piece of Karneval.

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Karneval parade in Germany

Today, you may not be allowed to burn down your neighbours barn anymore; however, the masquerade on Halloween is used more and more to express social and political resentment. Hence, it is just fitting that The New Yorker published an article with tips for a good Trump costume.

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Trump wig in Vancouver Halloween shop

Unknowingly, my former host sister in the US was ahead of her time in 2005, when dressing up as a dead cheerleader. At least from that day on everybody knew what she thought of the high school hierarchy.

As many times before, Halloween is once again undergoing a metamorphosis. Though the spiritual customs have lost their significance, the enjoyment of the masquerade remains, and maybe, the holiday is finding new meaning. By pretending to turn the social and political establishment on its head for one night, perhaps we are trying to purge the evil spirits that haunt the modern world.

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