Halloween has only been a popular holiday for the last hundred years or so, but every year it becomes more popular with people who love to be scared. Most people like to be scared, sometimes, and Halloween is a great time to get scared. Horror movies are consistently some of the most popular movies put out by Hollywood. The most popular children’s books of all time, the Harry Potter series, celebrated a world of magic, witches, demons and danger. Scientists say that the love of being scared is actually an evolutionary trait that helps with survival. Some scientists point out that the euphoria and fear centers of the brain are very close together, and often people will experience a sense of euphoria along with fear when they are scared similar to the way that athletes can experience euphoria during intense exercise. But, science alone can’t explain why it feels so good to be scared. Here are a few popular theories that try to explain why people love to be scared by horror movies, amusement parks, and Halloween:
Halloween is a “safe” scare – Some social scientists explain the cultural love of Halloween by saying that Halloween gives people an environment in which they can be scared but not too scared because they are in a controlled environment. Scaring yourself by watching scary movies, or visiting a fun house, or participating in other Halloween rituals that only last for one night is fun because you know that scares aren’t real, and that they will only last for a specific amount of time. In an uncertain world with real dangers lurking everywhere it can be a relief for people to let out their fear in a safe environment for a few hours.
Halloween celebrates the dangerous and forbidden aspects of human nature – Most of the time people try to be good and live up to a strict moral code. Celebrating on Halloween is their one chance during the year to abandon those moral codes and act in ways that they normally wouldn’t act. Costumes are a great way to live out fantasies and become someone else for an evening and activities that normally would not be considered acceptable like kissing strangers or going door to door asking for treats are welcomed and expected on Halloween. Halloween gives people permission to put their day to day lives aside and have a more exciting life for a night.
Halloween celebrates the unknown – Many people are intrigued to know what happens after death. Halloween is the one night every year when it just might be possible to see spirits, or come into contact with those who have passed on. The Celtic idea that on Halloween the veil between the living and the dead is thin enough for the two worlds to collide is fascinating and most people can’t resist the opportunity to see if they can experience something otherworldly on that night. Halloween is one of the few occasions when people can indulge their curiosity about death and what happens after death in a socially acceptable way.