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  • Writer's pictureTrans Field Guide

"Gay Christmas" - the History of Halloween and LGBT

In the immortal words of Tim Currey, “Anything can happen on Halloween.” This includes having more freedom to express yourself to the highest levels of camp. In fact, there are some areas where Halloween is considered to be “Gay Christmas,” for that very reason. So what better way to celebrate this high holy day than to be a complete nerd and give a little history lesson on the subject?

So first, a very brief history of Halloween in America in general. It started off as a pagan holiday, shock and awe, called Samhain, in which bonfires were lit to celebrate the time that the Celts considered to be the end of the year, which coincided with the end of the harvest season. They would dress up and tell ghost stories and tell fortunes through the evening, then they would light their hearths with wood from the ceremonial bon fires. That all changed when the fire nation attacked. Wait, no, I mean when the Romans conquered. So the romans come through and decide to do a fun crossover/consolidation between Samhain and a couple of their October holidays for their gods of death and harvest. Makes sense.

Then the fire nation-I mean Christians stepped in. Pope Boniface IV, which I will here-on-out pronounce as “Bony Face,” because this is my show and I can do what I want, dedicated the Pantheon, the building, to christian martyrs. That day, May 13th, became a feast of All Martyrs Day, until Pope Gregory III decided to once again consolidate holidays, tossed saints into the celebration, and moved the date to November 1st. They called the day All-hallowmas, and therefore the night before was All-Hallows Eve, and Samhain became consolidated with All Souls day, which was celebrated in a similar fashion to Samhian.

In America, All-Hallows Eve wasn’t celebrated much by the strict Protestants that first colonized. But that all changed when the...wait for it….Irish came, fleeing the famine. From there, it spread across the country as a more spooky version of the harvest festival, and then newspapers got parents to make it less spooky by taking anything “frightening” out of the celebrations, which of course stripped any last remnants of the original spiritual or religious traditions out of it. From there it became a family and community based celebration that focused more on children’s activities during the baby boom of the 50’s.

One more time: But that all changed, when the gays came in. The most famous piece of history on this part took place in San Francisco’s Castro District, though the slow infiltration of gay culture into Halloween happened all over the country during the same time frame. The story of the Castro District goes like this: in the 60s, the area was made up of mostly families, and every year they had a halloween party for the kids. In the mid 70s, a lot of “single men” moved into the area, and then started showing up to the party in (gasp) drag! [dramatic noise]. Well, the party got shut down after they did this enough times, so then they started their own party, and it took off into one of the largest LGBT halloween party areas in the country. Which is a suprise to no one, since San Fran is generally considered to be Gay Mecca.

Now you can find large LGBT Halloween parties a lot more easily, with the changing of the socio-political tides. However, even though there is a slow increase in acceptance throughout the rest of the year, Halloween is still considered by many to be the one night of the year that they can truly be themselves. And, of course, this takes many different forms depending on who you talk to. For some, the freedom to dress up in a way that more aligns with their gender is the most freeing feeling they can get. For others, it’s an opportunity to express outwardly their internal feelings of being “other” in the eyes of their community. It’s also the time of year in which lower inhibitions are smiled upon, and the more over-the-top you can go, the better it is (depending of course on what the subject is).

There are, of course, limitations to this freedom. If you are in a religion, area, or family that does not celebrate halloween or outright bans the holiday, then the day could be a source of frustration and feeling left out. Also, if all of your events are with people who are going to be bullies or judgemental of your costume, then you may not feel safe to truly express yourself. Always remember to stay safe, and if you can, provide safe celebration spaces for those around you. Let’s give everyone the chance to fully embrace this Gay High Holy Day.

So go out, ruin your diet with candy, make memories with your friends and loved ones, stay safe, and remember: Stay spooky my friends.

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