Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Spooky Stories

Halloween is coming, and many people ask me whether Russians celebrate this holiday. Well, the first (and the last) time I celebrated Halloween was when I was a student, in late 1990-s. While some people, mostly younger ones, do celebrate Halloween, many don’t. In the average Russian city (my dear Russian readers, please, correct me, if I’m wrong), there are no large sales or specific decorations in supermarkets, mothers do not bake bleeding-zombie-hands pies, and kids do not beg for candy. With increasing popularity of American culture, specific holidays like Saint Valentine’s Day and Halloween have come to Russia, but been transformed into yet another excuse for having a noisy costume party

However, I can't say that Halloween is completely foreign to the Russian culture. When I was a kid, we used to tell spooky stories to each other. There was a special time and special place for them. Pioneer camps (summer camping for kids) were where we learned those spooky stories. And the right time to tell them was at night, after going to bed. Imagine a relatively large group of pre-teen girls, and a beautiful summer night. Nobody wants to sleep yet, but going outside is strictly prohibited. The only available entertainment was to tell spooky stories to each other, in the hope that there was at least one novice in the group who has never heard them before, and who would react strongly enough to make everybody else happy.

Black cat yellow eyes on Moorlynch ave
Photo by Grégory Massal

The spooky stories (страшилки in Russian, from страх, fear) vary from generation to generation, but the common features remains unchanged: something supernaturally bad starts happening in some place or/and to a protagonist. The main character sees bad omens and receives warnings from everywhere, but does not pay enough attention, and finally dies in a scary fashion. The classic one is the story about the Black House set in the black forest. By accident, one girl found the Black House and entered it. She saw a black table with a black casket on it. She looked inside and found a dead man with the black holes where eyes should be. The dead men strangled the girl, put her into the casket and then ran away. Since then, the dead man has been wandering among the living people, while the girl lies inside the casket waiting for another naive visitor to replace her in the Black House. When I was 8, I found this story pretty impressive. I was the novice who had heard this story for the first
time, and my first night in the camp was sleepless.

I love spooky stories, and find them very helpful. First of all, kids practice their acting skills when telling the stories to each other. They have to develop their own style to keep up the suspense. Should they tell the story with a special scary low voice, or should they rather choose an intentionally dull, and a somewhat bored manner of speech? Should they scream or whisper? They learn to feel when their audience actually buys their story, and they improve their public speaking skills. I remember there was tough competition between spooky story narrators, where the main prize was the audience scared to hiccups. Psychologists believe that spooky stories also help kids to work on their fears. Of course kids realize that the stories are not true, and
they learn to control their fears, which is a very important part of growing up.

The genre of spooky story is alive and thriving in the age of the Internet. Here are a couple of websites (1 and 2), where you can read spooky stories in Russian and, who knows, may be you can find something there to surprise your friends on the Halloween. If you want to share your spooky story with others, you are very welcome!