It’s less than two weeks until Halloween, and my neighbors are ready. As I took my walk this weekend (no small feat, given that the temperature plummeted into the 40s and I really had to push myself out the door), it seemed as if holiday decorations had sprouted overnight.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were pumpkins, of course, and cornstalks and potted chrysanthemums in autumn hues, along with gauzy cobwebs wrapped around shrubs. But the big trend this year appears to be lawns planted with miniature tombstones. Forget the little orange lights. Mocking death is all the rage. One neighbor even had three human-size skeletons crawling up their house.

The ghoulishness is intentional, of course, and done in a playful spirit. Nonetheless, I find it ironic, to say the least. We as a society invest so much money and effort trying to avoid and hide the realities of illness, aging and death, that it’s startling to see homes decked out in ersatz graves. Perhaps it’s just one more form of denial. If you make death a joke, it can’t get you.

That impulse is as old as humankind. But as Halloween becomes more commercialized and deathly decorations become more ubiquitous, just another way to jumpstart the Christmas shopping season, the butt of the joke—our very mortal vulnerability—becomes trivialized.

We all live with numbered days, whether we want to admit it or not. Those of us who  live daily with chronic disease are significantly more aware of our mortality, often at a younger age, than those who have the good fortune of excellent health. It’s easy to make light of death when it still seems far off.

This is not to say that death is not fair game for humor and a sense of the absurd. Our ability to laugh at the things that frighten us the most is one of our greatest wells of resilience.

I simply don’t see the point of pretending there are dead bodies buried in your front lawn or some poor soul hanging from your maple tree. (I noticed the latter as we drove along a country road on Sunday, and for a split, horrified second, I thought the fake, stuffed body was real.) It not only fails to amuse me; I find it disquieting that someone would mount a skeleton on their house without thinking about what it really symbolizes.

Maybe I’m just getting crankier as I get older. Maybe it’s just getting too cold and too dark, too soon, as we head deeper into fall.

On the other hand, imagine what good could be accomplished if all that money spent on promoting and buying ridiculous Halloween decorations were invested into serious medical research to find cures for rare diseases like scleroderma. Now, that would be a reason to celebrate.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at

Image Credit: Cathy Smith


  1. Pat Bizzell says:

    I share your distaste for overly ghoulish Halloween decorations, especially as the trend to go ghoulish seems to be supported by increasing commercialization of the holiday. Once upon a time, decorations–and costumes–were home made, and in my view, a lot more fun. Possibly my view is also tainted by my knowledge that on many college campuses, Halloween has morphed into just one more drunken party, spiced by the license to wear salacious costumes.

    In Judith Frank’s novel All I Love and Know, we get to see ghoulish Halloween decorations through the eyes of a child who has just emigrated from Israel after losing her parents in a terrorist bombing. She’s never heard of Halloween and can only see the decorations as horrifying trauma triggers. Yes, Ev, as you say, let us reflect!

  2. I too, feel the same way as both of you. I guess its my age too, because I was born in 1953 and Halloween wasn’t that scary then. My Mom used to make my costumes, an Indian woman, a bunny, can’t remember any more. But it was fun then, go to a few doors down the street with my older siblings, and go home! There wasn’t all this REAL scary, decorations that have really happened somewhere in the world, like you said Pat about that poor little girl from Israel dying in a terrorist bombing. It has just got way out of hand!!! Too many decorations and too many scary costumes give me the creeps. I wish it could be just tamed down to the way it was in the 50’s and 60’s. But I guess that won’t happen! That’s my 2cents worth anyways, Lil

  3. Thanks, Lil and Pat. Glad to know I’m not alone on this one. I’m fine with playful and fun for Halloween, just not grotesque, for all the reasons I wrote about here.

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