I recently received a message from a reader who is a transplant to Utah. She asked, “Utahns (are) unusually obsessed with Halloween. They seem to revere it almost to the level of other big Christian holidays. Why is this?”
I can’t say for sure why I am the person to whom she turned to understand my people’s Halloween ethos, but I have a hunch it might have something to do with the plastic 12-foot skeleton in my backyard and my relentless documentation of my home’s Halloween decor on social media.
I will not — nay, I can not — shut up about my love for Halloween.
And I’m not alone. The reader is right. There’s a real enthusiasm among my friends and neighbors for the most meaningless of all holidays.
While I would never dream to speak for all the residents of a state, I do have some theories as to why a silly autumnal celebration of the spooky has become a collective favorite, and what makes Utah Halloween so unique.
Halloween is the anti-stress holiday
Our religious holidays are wonderful celebrations of joy, love, and faith. But they can also be a lot. Sometimes too much.
From mid-November through Jan. 1, it feels as though every moment must be infused with magic, importance and cheer. Every night is booked. We must balance the already frenetic rhythm of life with additional family and work obligations and try and take a family photo decent enough for the cards we must mail. We must purchase gifts for every human we’ve ever come in contact with, and we must listen to the same five songs on repeat. And we must have a jolly attitude about all of it.
Halloween, on the other hand, asks nothing of us. We can participate as much or as little as we’d like and not a single soul on earth cares. Want to watch the entire Shutter catalog in October and listen to nothing but The Monster Mash? Great. Want to ignore the holiday entirely? Great. No hearts will be broken, no family member left gift-less, no reason for the season unobserved.
Absent societal pressures, participation in Halloween festivities becomes a bonus creative outlet and not an obligation.
We have a bajillion kids
Halloween is a macabre celebration of death and decay, sure, but it’s also for kids. Don’t think about it.
The culminating activity, the only required activity really — aside from the unpleasant business of gutting pumpkins — is trick-or-treating, an activity most people age out of around 12-13. Post-trick-or-treating Halloweens can be a dark period for a lot of adolescents. Some might enter a rebellious pumpkin-smashing phase (literally smashing of pumpkins, not the seminal nineties alt-rock band with the same name, though the Venn diagram overlap of teens in the nineties who smashed pumpkins and listened to Smashing Pumpkins was probably significant). Some might show up dressed as a turkey sandwich to a party where everyone else is dressed as something as sexy vampires. Some might be peer-pressured into watching a movie that will cause a month of sleepless nights phase. All are bad.
Halloween doesn’t really get fun again until there are adorable children around, with their chubby wrists poking out of their Bluey or astronaut costumes. And in Utah, there are always children around.
There’s a twelve-foot plastic skeleton from Home Depot in my backyard. One time my dad went to work on Halloween dressed as grapes, wearing purple tights, covered in purple balloons. My neighbors have a front-yard full of cardboard gravestones, each with a joke like “Izzy Dedd” and “Ben Bette” written on it.
It’s a morbid time when we’re all forced to face our mortality and the inevitability of our own death. But it’s also hilarious.
I grew up thinking trunk-or-treat was an exclusively Latter-day Saint activity. But I also grew up thinking the family on “Father of the Bride” were members of my faith because I had a worldview the size of a marble. Trunk-or-treats can be found almost anywhere. What makes them unique in Utah is that many of them are hosted by local Latter-day Saint congregations.
We have trunk-or-treat for reasons no one knows. I remember hearing whispers once that trunk-or-treating was a safer option than trick-or-treating, a theory that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in Sandy, Utah, and one I suspect was manufactured during the drugs in candy panic of yore when parents were led to believe drug dealers were giving away free product to children. Or maybe someone needed an excuse to employ some bizarre church puns that can be only thought up by a ward activities committee. I heard rumors of one congregation member suggesting the church parking lot trunk-or-treat be called, “the night of the unbaptized dead.” Yikes.
In reality, trunk-or-treat is just a pregame for the big night and only serves to double the amount of candy that my kids stash in a random pillowcase in their room until I find it and toss it in April.
But, in my neck of the woods, the trunk-or-treat is also a chili cook-off, which I happened to win this year, and in so doing received a blue ribbon attached to a can of Nalley’s.
So I’m decidedly pro trunk-or-treat.
This one might just be me, but Halloween is the one night a year when I get to find out who, exactly, lives in all the neighborhood homes, and what, exactly, their vibe is. As an amateur anthropologist and opinion-haver on home design, there’s nothing I love more than the chance to peek inside nearby houses while chaperoning my trick-or-treaters. Plus, it’s a good chance to learn who in the neighborhood has the coin to give out full-size candy bars.
Nosiness aside, Halloween is the most neighborly of holidays and offers citizens of any given area, of any given demographic, the opportunity to meet, connect and share traditions.
Look I don’t want to flex too hard here, but there is no more beautiful place in the world than Utah in October. Our landscapes mirror the canvases of art’s greatest impressionists with swaths of orange, red and yellow on the mountains jutting up against the pinks and purples of our autumn sunsets.
Frost-bitten leaves crunch delightfully beneath children’s feet, and jack-o-lanterns emit their warm glow while the distinct scent of candles burning in pumpkins envelops the neighborhood.
Homes are filled with baked goods slathered in cream cheese and bread bowls full of soup.
I don’t know if any of this is uniquely Utahn, or if I have the naivety of someone who has spent most of her life here and likes to believe we’re special as a population, but I hope people the world over do enjoy this season as much as me and my people do.
Because it is truly the most wonderful time of the year.