Cosplay Righteousness and Halloween

For one night (and one night only), you get to be someone else for a change.

Sam Bush / 10.14.21

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell the truth. -Oscar Wilde

A few years ago I participated in a murder mystery dinner. Before the event, I was sent an entirely fictional identity complete with a short biography, personality traits, any relevant gossip about my character, and tips on what to wear. Once I arrived at the party, I was given instructions — people to talk to, people to avoid, social aspirations, etc. In other words, my true self – my actual name, my actual biography — had no business being there whatsoever. I was told the more you could get in character, the better. To be honest, I thought it sounded pretty hokey. I expected people to speak with ironic undertones, halfheartedly playing into their roles and feeling more than a little embarrassed to be attending what felt like a game of dress-up.

What actually happened? People came alive! Those that were generally known to be shy became outright rowdy. Strangers talked as if they were old friends. The chemistry in the room was electric. It was the most natural I have ever seen a group of people act. There wasn’t a hint of self-consciousness because, after all, no one’s actual “self” was invited. I’m convinced that what made the party so magical was that, for once in their lives, people’s identities weren’t at stake. What they said and did had no effect on their reputation in the outside world. The result? They were more themselves than they had ever been before. Leave it to a murder mystery dinner to help people feel less afraid.

Halloween has all kinds of expectations and pressures, but getting to don another identity has to be at least one of its redeeming qualities. Forget about competing for Most Unique or Funniest costume. For one night (and one night only), you get to be someone else for a change.

This year, my three year old gets to be a dragon and, for the past week (still, nearly three weeks from Halloween), he has worn his dragon costume more than he has worn normal clothes. He has had so much fun pretending to be a dragon, that he has slowly been developing the characteristics of one — teeth and all. In the Atlantic, Chris Koentges once wrote about a similar experience. At the age of six, his ninja costume looked so impressive that he was challenged to a fight by a fifth-grade clown. “Nobody was more shocked than I when the clown was in the dirt, blood streaming from multiple gashes,” he writes. “There had been a rhythm to my movements that, to this day, I don’t understand.” Needless to say, it gives me pause for concern as to what my dragon son might do on Halloween should he come across a sheep.

To be clear, the moral of the story is not “fake it till you make it” (i.e. that if you pretend to be like a dragon you will, someday, become an actual dragon), but that our identities are more malleable than we’d like to think, that the “true self” is a fickle being, and that we are most often ourselves when we forget about ourselves. The identities we try on are as temporary as All Hallows Eve. Year after year, we get to experiment with an alter ego, but the promise of Halloween only lasts for a night. Say what you want, but there’s nothing sadder than a costume on November 1.

Beneath this extended metaphor is the notion that we might actually want to be someone else. Not for just a night, but permanently. With every new stage of life — a new home, a new school, a new spouse — comes the allure of reinventing oneself. To not be so sensitive, lazy or envious. To have a better work ethic, a thicker skin or more self-control. Basically, to not be you altogether. The underlying theme of this sincere desire to change is that the common denominator to life’s problems is the one staring back at you in the mirror. But if, time and again, we don’t see that inner change happen, then where is there hope?

It brings to mind the Apostle Paul’s words to the Galatians when he speaks of the nature of faith: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” It’s interesting that, here, Paul chooses not to illustrate faith as an inner change but as outerwear. Underneath, we may still be the fearful people we were before our soteriological wardrobe change. Yet, because we are dressed in Jesus himself, God somehow sees us as his obedient, loving children.

And what’s the result of our new Jesus outfit? We somehow become more ourselves than we had ever thought possible. Likewise, as embarrassing as it may be to all be wearing the same thing, there’s no more competition for the best costume since all of us are one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28). Dressed in our Jesus best, the things we thought were so important about ourselves no longer matter at all. The same goes for those qualities we’d rather not broadcast on social media.

In Christ, we forget everything about ourselves that we thought would make us distinctive. Every little distinct personality trait, everything about us that we think might justify our existence is covered by our consecrated costume. Thankfully, it is a costume that lasts more than one night. Chris Koentges describes the fleeting nature of our yearly game of dress-up, writing, “In our disposable Bin Laden masks and cardboard Optimus Prime biceps, we only develop fleeting, superficial relationships with our headline Halloween identities.” But our Jesus suit can never be taken off. As Christians, we are always wearing a costume of righteousness. For us, every day is Halloween.