The best thing about Halloween? Seeing who people really are.

Erica Zendell
Oct 30, 2016 · 6 min read

Today is Sunday, October 30, 2016. Even though Halloween is still one day away, by tomorrow, I have already celebrated it 5 times over.

  • Wednesday, I celebrated Halloween by watching a bit of the office’s children’s Halloween parade. I’m biased, but my boss’ angelic one-year-old girl as a bumblebee was certainly the most adorable tot in the lineup.
  • Thursday, I humored the “grown up” Halloween festivities at the office, where more than half of the 3,000 people in the building ended up dressing up, myself included, as a tiger. In an office full of engineers (and therefore a ton of Star Wars, Pokemon, and Game of Thrones costumes) I’ll remember the engineer who defied convention in his costume by walking around with a Union Jack shirt and an Exit sign around his neck. Get it? #brexit
  • Friday, I endured Halloween on my Lyft home from dinner, as my driver plowed through side streets teeming with costumed masses waiting to get into trashy Theater District clubs. Were I not completely cold and exhausted, I would have loved get in line to talk to the guy dressed up like a box of Crayola crayons. I’ve just never seen that costume before.
  • Saturday, I went to an actual Halloween party, where two friends dressed up in literal interpretation of the Boston subway stops Alewife and Braintree (as in one was a wife bearing ale and a tree with an exposed brain. I’ll never think about the Red Line the same way ever again).
  • This morning, I watched hungover college student-zombies fill their baskets at CVS with Gatorade and Tylenol, as I bought the store out of its clearance Halloween candy to use for Christmas baking.

For all the Halloween fatigue I’m experiencing, I’m generally a fan of costumed holidays. My favorite holiday — bar none — is the Jewish holiday, Purim. Most people don’t know what it is, but many have implicitly “celebrated” it by eating a Hamentaschen cookie (which looks like this) at some point in their lives. Similar to Halloween, it’s a day for children to dress up and eat sweets, and for adults to sometimes dress up, and definitely drink up. Unlike Halloween, Purim has a pretty sophisticated story behind it, and the holiday places as much emphasis on merriment and self-indulgence as on charity and giving to others. Still, barely 2% of the U.S. population is Jewish and even in a city like Boston, which has strong pockets of Jewish people, it looks pretty weird to see people out in costume in March, when Purim tends to fall.

The thing I like the most about Purim and Halloween, and that I have thought about much in the last few days, is how holidays like these give us a judgment-free pass to be somebody else for the day — or longer, depending on how long you and your friends celebrate. Whatever we choose to wear on an ordinary day showcases our personality in some way, but on Halloween, we can take that self-expression to an extreme. Take away the alcohol — Halloween as a holiday is a social lubricant on its own. We can feel safe enough to show pieces of ourselves that, for whatever reason, we don’t feel comfortable showcasing on every other night of the year. I‘d argue, more often than not, that the people who dress up in costume are more themselves than the people who go to a party and say “This year, I’m being myself.”*

Whenever I think about Halloween, I always think of the line from the movie ‘Mean Girls,’ describing the holiday as “the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.” I have to say that girls who do that should be able to dress and express themselves however they wish: I don’t like when girls dress a certain way for the attention of men when it’s coming from a place of feeling inadequate and craving validation but am fully in favor of women dressing a certain way if it’s coming from a place of confidence and empowerment. Are you a woman who feels like her sexuality has no outlet to express itself or is otherwise under lock and key? By all means, channel your Dita von Teese or Pamela Anderson, and be yourself on this night for the first time, when it’s safe to be “somebody else.”

So what do my costume choices say about me? Pretty much anything you’d want to know about who I am and the kind of person I want to be in the world. Last year, I was Holly Golightly and Carmen Sandiego — the classically glamorous socialite and the sexy, sleuthing, mysterious globetrotter. In previous years, I was Wonder Woman and Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games — two powerful, headstrong heroines, leading and fighting for justice in their respective stories and on an American media stage historically dominated by male heroes. This year, at the office, I was a tiger — not my most inspired costume, but it was tremendously joyful day holding team meetings that included a panda, a cow, a sloth, a chipmunk, and a giraffe, and going out for lunch at one of Boston’s highest-traffic malls in an animal onesie. But even choosing to be a tiger served another purpose beyond being part of a team costume and getting to use that costume again for a college reunion. They’re smart, beautiful, regal, a little fearsome, and “solitary-but-social” animals. What I think about these costumes inevitably says something about me. Wearing them is a way that I express how I think about myself, what I aspire to be, and how I want other people to think about me.

It’s a holiday that makes me wonder about all the ways in which I hide in plain sight from people about who I really am. Last weekend, for example, I saw a side of myself that I rarely let people see when in an argument with my dad, which, belligerence aside, found me at my most headstrong, resolute, and confident self. My dad, a lawyer with over 45 years of experience, is more fearsome than anyone else in my life, in or outside of the office, and I was able to “speak my truth,” even though my beliefs put me at risk of making him angry to the point of him kicking me out of the house for the weekend (totally seriously).

That strength of voice is something that I value and like about myself and that deeply defines who I am, but it’s not something that I allow others to see and hear. Outside of expressing it a few blog posts and a few friendships, I keep my volume on ‘low.’ When around friends and coworkers, I avoid getting angry about anything and I tend to keep my opinions to myself, even on topics about which I feel passionately. I hesitate to share my full perspective and be completely myself, expecting it’ll make people uncomfortable.

I am definitely not the only person who feels this way and struggles with her voice. So if I had it in me to endure one more day of Halloween, and incur the financial burden of making a really good costume for it, I’d choose to be the flamboyant, multitalented, unapologetic Lady Gaga. The woman is unstoppable.

So this year, if you’re going out (again), I encourage you to pay attention to what you wear and what your friends are wearing and what typically-hidden thing people around you are choosing to show about themselves for the night. If you decide to get psychoanalytical about it, there’s a lot you can learn about people by observing what people chose to be. Even the person dressed up like a hot dog because it was the only thing that they could borrow at short notice or get in time for Halloween with Prime shipping.

I hope you’ll take advantage of the night to fully express yourself and find the courage to show a little more of your costumed self on the other days of the year.

Happy Halloween!

*Unless the person doing that is a new-age-y friend who’s stoned or tripping on something else. Then it’s more likely they’re being themselves.

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