By Maggie Phillips
We are officially well into Spooky Season. If your neighborhood is anything like mine, you’ve already received the annual anonymous basket of Halloween-themed treats, along with a little poem about how you’re supposed to pay it forward to another neighbor. And if you’re anything like me, you keep thinking you need to actually do that, but other more pressing concerns keep taking precedence. Pressing concerns like work, school, family obligations, and ghosts.
Okay, more like the absence of ghosts. Seriously. Where are they? I’ll admit I spend way too much mental energy wondering this.
This is a difficult time of year for me as someone who grew up reading Goosebumps and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and watching Are You Afraid of the Dark? These entertainment properties led me to understand that there were ghosts everywhere, just waiting to get their message out through ordinary kids like me. And yet, dear reader, I regret to inform you, I have yet to have any such experience.
As a military spouse, I’ve lived on a few Army posts with historic quarters. As anyone who has ever lived on such an installation can tell you, legends and rumors of haunted quarters abound in these places. Our most recent assignment even has an annual tradition of ghost tours of the most haunted homes and buildings on post. You would think I would have gone, but even though we were stationed there two years, I didn’t make it.
Maybe it was because my kids had stuff scheduled that night, or maybe it was because I simply found the prospect too depressing. It seems like every military family who has lived in an old house has a ghost story, but I – a lifelong military family member who is perfectly willing to acknowledge the possibility of ghosts and has lived in historic housing – have nary a ghost story to my name. A haunted quarters tour would be like being the lone single friend at a dinner with a bunch of your happily married friends.
My friends have unsettling stories about ghostly voices and opened cabinets. I’m starting to feel like Linus waiting in the pumpkin patch waiting for The Great Pumpkin to appear. My prospects of having my own military spouse ghost story, however, are starting to grow dim. For one thing, we are likely past the halfway mark of my husband’s military career. Now, as of this summer, we live in a brand new house, built just for us that no one has ever lived in before. Additionally, after we moved in, I had our priest come bless the house, going room to room with holy water. The conditions just aren’t in place.
Nevertheless, I continue forward with my Halloween spirit unabashed. Like Ebenezer Scrooge’s nephew Fred, even though military life has never put a ghostly apparition in my path, I say Halloween has done me good and will do me good, and I say, God bless it!
It’s such a uniquely American tradition, taking Old World religious traditions and infusing them with civic virtue. You see this in the form of the many neighborhood traditions and community gatherings that pop up more or less spontaneously each year. There is no national Halloween observance on the calendar or formal set of rules, and yet every October 31st, generations of American kids observe Halloween much the same the way their parents and grandparents did. There is no requirement for grown-ups to buy bags and bags of candy to give out to kids for free, and yet they do.
Halloween, for all its gory and creepy imagery, is as much a holiday about generosity and hospitality as any of the other holidays many Americans celebrate in the fall and winter. If ghosts fascinate us in part because of the way they break down the barriers between the past and present and make us feel like we’re a part of something bigger, perhaps the popularity of Halloween persists for the same reason.
About Maggie Phillips
Maggie Phillips is an Army spouse and mom of three. She writes for Tablet magazine as part of a grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation to increase religious literacy. Her work has appeared in The Leaven, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Army magazine, NextGen MilSpouse, Military Mom Collective, Military Spouse magazine online, and elsewhere. When she can get a babysitter, Maggie also does stand-up comedy, a subsidized hobby that usually just about pays for the babysitter. Follow her on Instagram at @maggies_words, on Twitter at @maggiemphillips, and at mrsmaggiephillips.com. Opinions her own.