op_khapaeva2_ SERGEI SUPINSKYAFP via Getty Images_halloween SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images
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Displaying Our Skeletons

Between a plague, a war, and the potential for nuclear Armageddon in Ukraine, one might wonder why public enthusiasm for scary movies and creepy decorations remains strong. How has a holiday rooted in pre-modern agrarian rituals survived in postindustrial society, and why has it spread worldwide?

ATLANTA – What explains the global popularity of Halloween nowadays? In country after country to which Halloween festivities have spread, one is tempted to read politics into it. In the United States, for example, some see in Halloween an expression of countercultural aesthetics representing opposition to capitalist exploitation, gender and racial inequality, and American imperialism.

Since the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, Western-oriented citizens in these countries have viewed Halloween as a status symbol and festive novelty. Even though the Ukrainian Orthodox Church shuns Halloween, skeleton costumes and ghastly makeup were on sale throughout the country this October – a defiant sign of resilience in the face of Russian terrorism, or maybe just a reflection of the desire to look like any other European country.

Despite the Kremlin’s antipathy to everything Western, Russians, too, prepared for Halloween (a “diabolical holiday,” according to the Russian Orthodox Church) this year, as they have since the late 1990s. Even pro-Kremlin media ran stories about the holiday, no doubt eager to create a superficial sense of normalcy. And, given that more than 50,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in President Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, and that some 700,000 Russians – most of them draft-aged men – have fled the country, the desire of many Russians to carry on with Halloween-as-usual suggests that the media massage is working.