Halloween parties have already begun and costumes like the sexy nurse has got me thinking about the origins of the holiday, and how far from its original purpose we have come.
A basic Wikipedia search tells it pretty well: Halloween was originally a Celtic holiday to celebrate the harvest season, possibly including pagan rituals to recognize the dead, and later was repurposed for Western Christians as a time to remember dead saints … etc.
I suppose any holiday is essentially a Rorschach test for any given culture, and if the most significant part of the holiday boils down to selling candy, watching movies and wearing fake beards and fangs, then so be it. But like any good horror/thriller novel or film, a good fright during Halloween can remind us of our existence; that we are alive and not dead, although someday we will be.
Having gone to several Halloween parties, I can tell you Oct. 31 is quite often a scary holiday. No, I haven’t been to the world’s best “haunted” house – no visions of dead relatives slaughtering house pets, and no elaborate pranks.
I remember at a party a few years back meeting a fellow named John who dressed as a character from a cartoon I didn’t recognize. After a brief conversation, I learned he was an undertaker. When I asked why he didn’t just dress as a ghoulish undertaker, he responded, “That’s me every day.”
After a few adult beverages, John told me story after story about bodies in various states of decay (because I asked); the worst were those who had no friends or family. No one knew they were dead, not until the smell alerted neighbors who called the authorities.
He told me about the bone-crusher machine – what happens to bones after the rest of the body is cremated. Fun fact: you can’t breathe bone dust. You will die if you do because particles from the dust, once inside one’s lungs, hooks onto tissue. From there, simply breathing drags the particles across the tissue, tearing it apart.
I asked, “Why would you want to do this?”
“It’s just sort’ve who I am now,” he said. “My mom worked in the business and I’m not really good at anything else. And it pays fairly well.”
“What about getting dates?” I asked. “The big thing is getting over your first body – after that, it’s a lot easier.”
I told him that I just couldn’t do what he did.
“I didn’t think I could either,” he said. “But it’s kind of like death; it’s my fate.”
The best thing about the conversation was an idea for a future book—breathing bone dust kills!