Depending on who you ask, the reaction to Halloween varies considerably. For example, if you ask the Christian church representatives (I assume they are self-appointed) whom I see in the middle of the crowd with their big crosses, they will explain to you how sinful it is and would ask you to repeat some verses from the Bible. If you were in Eritrea before about a decade and read the article published in the national newspaper written by Ghirmay Yohannes (not to be confused with the comedian Ghirmay “Sandiego”) you would hardly understand anything apart from possibly condemn the act as “stupid and utter non-sense.” Then, when some returnees and possibly joint with other “wannabes” celebrated the day in one of the night-clubs owned by an Eritrean-American man, some days later the then freelancer Ghirmay published an article under the title “Satanic Day was Observed in Asmara.” Not to mention the confusion it created as result of name similarities with the comedian Ghrimay Yohannes that led him to write an article to clarify his stand and expectedly condemn such “irresponsible act,” the article created an uproar. Until recently my friend Yonatan mentioned it casually, I had no idea the writer was discussing Halloween. Readers can also hardly guess what the real event was as the writer spent great portion of his article describing the scene which he described it mostly as “semi-naked” and made it sound like “nude party.” As he possibly did not grasp the aura of the event, he has been very vague and repeatedly referred as “satanic day” instead of using the term Halloween.
I will not bore you with explaining what Halloween is nor will I discuss its significance and meaning. You can read here (Wikipedia is good source for such) if you have little curiosity to know more (I hope some of my professors won’t be angry with my source, in case they read it).
Fast forward: October 2016, Athens, OH.: It is my fourth year to celebrate Halloween in America, of which the three have been in the ideal party town (my second-home) Athens. Most alumni and others from neighboring counties and cities flock to Athens for any major party, simply because there could never be as such convenient party destination. This year the weather was in favor and expectedly Athens was flooded with thousands of visitors. Yet, it never loses its serenity and as often the party ended peacefully. As all after major parties, the morning scene has been mostly young men and women with their pillows and pajamas, walking to their cars while struggling to recover from their hangovers.
Every year around Halloween time, I come to a better understanding how serious and deeply in-built it is for most people. For about a month starting in their schools, kids would mainly discuss their Halloween costumes and how eagerly they have been waiting for “trick and treat.” Adults, start conversing about their costumes in such serious tone just like turning a paper before a week or so. Observing how seriously many of my cohorts discuss about it and naturally being asked what I am going to dress, I have been feeling slightly odd. Initially I used to position myself only as an observer, but recently I come to realize I can never be an observer forever.
Expectedly I was out for the party yesterday as well. Athens municipality—as they have been doing it—have blocked the main street and there were two live bands. The main street, Court Street, was crowded with every possible odd costumes. The trend usually varies from year to year, but it also gives a good glimpse of the average American life-style. Movie characters as often are among the most recurrent costumes. I have been observing significant number of people acting like prisoners with their orange uniforms and tags. Catholic nuns and priests are another all-time favorites, I guess. Possibly due to the fierce reaction from major minority groups in America such as Muslims, I tend to observe less and less people are wearing the Arabic traditional attires.
Political figures, naturally, would be ridiculed in such occasions, when else? In fact I was expecting more people will try to parrot the presidential candidates, but I did not observe many this year. The most creative costume I observed is one young-man wearing regular clothes and a blue T-shirt that reads: “Donald Trump: Let’s Make America Great Again.” I interpreted it as parody, whatever he thought of it.
Since most people were wearing different costumes–with a tradition to compliment on their creativity and where everyone happily poses for a photo—I felt odd to wear regular clothes. As I have been observing over the last few years, most people are also very serious with what they are doing. Although the whole event is to make fun and mimic other things, yet most people do it at their best. Halloween has evolved into its own trend and almost independent reality and does not matter how significantly it departs from its meaning.
Halloween also presents the best opportunity to act foolish and put yourself on the shoes of others whom you adore or despise. The creativity on costumes and the amount of energy invested are rewarding by themselves. If I were single, I would have written long about the sexy costumes and inviting gestures many women have been exhibiting. [Of course I also have to edit the paragraph I wrote about the protruding breasts many young women were happily showing off.] The liberty it gives to criticize or appreciate others and yet the very fact of not being accounted for your acts is also another important aspect of it.
In retrospective the most creative costume I can think of myself or might wear it next year (fingers crossed by then he will be history) is a T-shirt that reads “ንሕና ንሱ፣ ንሱ ንሕና” (“We are all Isaias Afwerki”) showing the image of Eritrea’s life-president, Isaias Afwerki.