The 31st of October marks the end of the Spooky Season with Halloween. It represents an important point: the transition from Gay Christmas to Regular Christmas.
This is for those who have ever stopped to wonder why it’s called Gay Christmas. And for those who have never wondered before but are wondering right now.
The literal interpretation is easy enough: Halloween is such a large celebration for the LGBTIQ+ community, that it’s comparable to the impact of Christmas on mainstream culture. However, that only begs the follow-up question of why such a phenomenon has come to be. From Celtic folklore to all-American celebration, let’s dissect the cultural meaning of Halloween. And how its horror themes resonate with the LGBTIQ+ community.
What are the roots of Halloween?
The origins of Halloween can be traced back to 2000 years ago, with the Celtic festival for Samhain, which also represented a transition point: from the end of warm summertime to the start of cold Winter days. At this time, it was believed that the veil separating the living and the dead was at its weakest, allowing spirits to roam free. People dressed up in animal skins, lit bonfires, and played games through the night.
In the 4th century, the Celts were conquered by the Romans, and some aspects of their culture were redefined to better assimilate with Roman traditions. Since the Church disapproved of the darker elements of Samhain, the people were instead encouraged to dress up as Saints.
In the 8th century, Pope Gregory III moved All Saints Day celebrations from May 13th to November 1st. As such, October 31st became known as “All Hallows (Saints) Eve” which was eventually shortened to “Hallow E’en”, or Halloween as we know it today. Until this time, Halloween was a European holiday, which conflicts with today’s current notion of it being an American celebration. It’s worth saying that only some European countries have caught onto.
Between the 17th and 19th centuries, it was inconceivable to celebrate a Pagan holiday in freshly colonized Puritan America, so Halloween was banned.Its rebirth didn’t happen until the mid-19th century when the Potato Famine brought an influx of Irish immigrants to the United States, their Halloween celebrations slowly pushed the holiday back into public consciousness. And since all that is popular ends up being monetized, Halloween became the commercial American holiday that we know and love.
Why is Halloween meaningful to the LGBTIQ+ community?
Somewhere along the way, Halloween became intertwined with the LGBTIQ+ community. When we are children, it’s just a fun excuse to dress up and eat candy through the night. Nonetheless, as we gain a better understanding of ourselves, we can feel more drawn to the elements of the holiday.
There is a good reason for that. Halloween is an extremely liberating time where anything goes. Creativity and self-expression and rebellion are unconditionally celebrated, and not punished for being “too over-the-top”. Judgement and criticism have no place here, and pushing the boundaries is not only accepted but embraced. For queer people, who tend to hold themselves back in fear of being ostracized, Halloween is an extremely liberating time. As for once, they don’t have to pretend to be like everyone else and everyone else is like them.
Additionally, there is an appeal to LGBTIQ+ people, many of them gender non-conforming or just generally unconventional. For example, in the genderlessness of beasts:
- a vampire is a long black cape and fake fangs,
- a zombie is a green face paint and tattered bandages,
- multiple rolls of toilet paper make a mummy.
In the name of capitalism, these types of costumes can be designed to lean either feminine or masculine heavily. Yet, what matters is the possibility of entirely throwing away the concept of gender remains, even just one night.
In turning into beasts, queer people become connected with another core value that is unique to Halloween: celebrating the villains.
Why are villains meaningful to the LGBTIQ+ community?
Historically, queer characters could only be represented in a film if they were portrayed negatively, giving the idea that queerness was inherently evil or it resulted in tragedy. On one hand, the queer coding of villains continues to spread harmful stereotypes about the LGBTIQ+ community.
Alternatively, some directors saw this as a loophole that allowed them to sneak in some semblance of diversity. For that those who were closeted could see themselves represented on screen. Queer watchers tend to embrace the villains because felt more relatable than the hero that does the right thing.
Back to our point, no genre is better at celebrating the villains than horror, with its fantastical and often exaggerated portrayals of society’s fears. This results in resonating deeply with those who are closeted or judged. Notice how, on any other day and in any other genre, the creatures that take the spotlight on Halloween are outcasts at best and evil at worst.
When queer people see themselves and their community receiving similar treatment from society, how can they not bond with horror and its elements?
Horror has always been queer
Halloween has a history of rising from oppression and fear of the unknown and confidently stepping into the spotlight. Let’s work to make sure that the history of the LGBTIQ+ community follows the same path. In the meantime, let’s continue to celebrate the freaky and the spooky, until the inevitable time to be jolly.
Do you want to read more about LGBTIQ+ community?
You can also read 5 Reasons That Show Why We (Still) Need Pride Month.