The other day I walked into a Cracker Barrel looking for pot roast and hashbrown casserole, and I saw they’d already put the Halloween stuff out for sale in the store part. If you thought Cracker Barrel, with its loooong history of being incredibly crappy to LGBT people until very, very recently - was against Halloween out of misplaced religious objection, you’re dead wrong. Evil Dead wrong. Evil Dead 2 wrong!
Cracker Barrel has had some of the best Halloween offerings since as long as I’ve been wearing stompy boots and listening to sad music. My house used to be absolutely covered in their wares, often bought in a delightful carb-overload glow after a good meal. See these below? They’re little s’more people dressed in Halloween costumes. I bought the whole set from Cracker Barrel across two separate trips. You’ll notice the little rope loops at the top. That because these aren’t knick knacks; these are ornaments for your Spooky Tree. You DO put out a Spooky Tree around August, don’t you?
As it’s the armpit of summer and the heat index in Houston has rarely been below 100 degrees in the afternoon, I got childishly excited at all the gaudy fall buyables. I ran up to the counter with a skeleton cat coffee mug which I was pleasantly surprised was dishwasher safe. The clerk wished me a nice day, I wished her one back, and then because I am a human labradoodle I shouted “Happy Halloween!”
And you know what, I think I’m just going to keep saying it. I’m going to say it from here to October 31. I might just say it all year.
Upon the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, Christmas has gotten… weird. He personally takes credit for making it so people were allowed to say “Merry Christmas” again despite the fact that literally no one said they couldn’t before. Once November rolls around, you run into a lot of people with an evangelical fervor in their eyes wishing you “Merry Christmas” with an odd emphasis on the third syllable. There’s the annual brouhaha over the Starbucks cups or any other company that prefers a secular message to a sectarian one.
And you hear the word “now” a lot. People are so pleased they can say “Merry Christmas” now, as if there was some dark age where it was forbidden. There wasn’t in America in living memory. Here’s the official City of Houston Twitter page wishing us all one. Here’s a video of Barack Obama saying it multiple times. Even noted atheist author Christopher Hitchens tells people “Merry Christmas.” I went to Typhoon Texas with the kid two Sundays ago. They had a Christmas in July thing going on complete with some poor bastard in a Bumble suit from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It wasn’t a Holiday in July event. There has never, ever been a shortage of “Merry Christmas” happening, even when we are engaged in literally the opposite of Yule.
It doesn’t matter because Christmas has become this partisan point where people claim some sort of ideological victory by shouting salutations at you when you’re out and about. Okay, if that’s how it’s going to be, why not “Happy Halloween” right now?
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Jay Wexler’s new book, Our Non-Christian Nation: How Atheists, Satanists, Pagans, and Others Are Demanding Their Rightful Place in Public Life, has a depressing but oddly-hopeful premise. Basically, he says that after the last twenty years of Supreme Court rulings on the subject, the wall between church and state has largely fallen. There is no impermeable border between religious expression and public life to be maintained. The hilariously-unintended side effect of those decisions is that they protect equal expression. If a county park wants to put up a Christian display, they can’t tell a Satanist no. If they want to open legislative sessions with prayers, they have to make reasonable accommodations to allow non-Christians to participate.
According to Wexler, the result of this enforced fairness based on legal decisions is that sectarians generally back down rather than share the spaces they want to inhabit. That’s fine, but holiday greetings aren’t a “space” to anyone but philosophers with too much time on their hands. Still, there is no reason that the principle shouldn’t apply.
Halloween decorations start earlier every year. It’s a holiday ripe as a pumpkin with spiritual connections, a fair amount of them Christian since Día de Muertos got popularly folded into it via the seasonal aisle at Kroger. Why shouldn’t we put the “hallow” back in Halloween and claim equal right as reactionary Christians do with Christmas? I can’t speak for anyone else, but all the summer does these days is remind me that climate change is probably going to kill all our grandchildren, and portents of fall, the harvest, early sunsets, and impossible worlds of dark and mystery make me a little less anxious. There’s something very empowering about clutching a sugar skull snowglobe and looking at the hateful sun while muttering, “your time’s a-coming, jerk.”
If we’re going to have this fight every holiday season, let’s have it. Tell people Happy Halloween. Make them exist in your world. Take up room and establish a cultural colony amidst increasingly theocratic rule. Be an idolater if that’s what it takes. As laws governing women and LGBT people are rewritten to appease narrow interpretations of the Bible, it’s almost a moral obligation to draw a line in the sand with candy straws and the point of a scarecrow post. It seems like not much, just letting the zealous and provocative scream “Merry Christmas.” It’s more than you think, though, to respond joyously but differently in kind. Privileged people especially should do so and not leave fights to Jews, Muslims, atheists, Wiccans, and the like. Just because the wall has fallen is no reason to cede the fight and let the insincere defile the pumpkin patch.