Steve and I enjoy an ongoing game of “arcane book ideas”. Yesterday, it was The History of Halloween. I wonder if that book’s ever been written? In our neighborhood, trick or treating was commuted to Sunday. There was a block party followed by an hour and a half of trick or treating at certain houses designated by orange and black balloons tied outside. It was a very organized affair. An informative flier went out a week ago with a tear-off response section on the bottom. There was even a neighborhood bank account set up to receive contributions. As far as I could tell, the block party was moved indoors because of rain. The barricades remain on the parkway and never went up. But we could hear the children, teens, and parents slogging through the drizzle in the dark.
Halloween is a big thing here in the Midwest. I lived in California for 15 years and never saw more than a dozen trick-or-treaters. (Okay, spell check didn’t like that term and offered me an alternative: trick-or-anteaters. Can you imagine? Love the visual on that idea!) Maybe people there are just way too suspicious of their neighbors and scared to let their children roam. We were. My husband used to reminisce about trick-or-treating in his cul de sac with the parents following doing their own trick-or-drinking. Candy for the kiddies, cocktails for their parents. Very Californian. My mother was the most unpopular Halloween hostess on the block. She kept trying to think of low-sugar alternative treats. Most years, it was little boxes of raisins. One year, it was balloons. Deflated ones. This was before choking hazards got much press. Another year, it was nuts in the shell. Again, before nut allergies got much press. I was always so embarrassed (and disappointed) by our “candy bowl”. She was adamant about limiting sugar for the sake of our teeth long before healthy choices were fashionable. She was also a stickler for sunscreen before SPF was displayed on every bottle. Now that I’m almost 50, I should thank her every time I look in the mirror and a full set of teeth and a smooth pair of cheeks smile back.
In my day, Halloween had very few rules. You went to school in costume, partied all day, and then trick-or-treated all night (or for as long as your mom would let you). When my kids were young, that was the initial routine. Then the village posted trick-or-treat hours, usually from 4-7pm. Then there was the year that parents and teachers decided that too much instruction time was being lost on this dress up holiday with occult overtones. So they had each grade level run a study-themed costume and activity day. The third graders were doing a prairie unit, so they all dressed in pioneer outfits and made corn-husk dolls and bobbed for apples and that kind of thing. The fifth graders were doing a Native American unit, so they wove tiny patches of yarn onto looms, deciphered symbols, and ate popcorn. I really liked the idea. They got to dress up and have treats and play games, but they were very creatively centered on specific social studies units. I was rather a serious mom myself. But my kids got candy. Sacks of it. And I raided their stash every year. One year, when my oldest was just a toddler and we were living in California, I bought some Halloween candy (Mounds, my favorite) and ended up dipping into it myself before the big night. I figured we wouldn’t get many visitors anyhow. Well, we got a few more than I expected, and I ran out of candy. So when the doorbell rang, my darling daughter ran to the door to see the costumes. “We don’t have any more candy because my mom ate it all,” she explained. Well, at least I taught her honesty.
I enjoyed my part at the Nature Center as the witch. I’m glad we did it two weeks ago when the weather was a bit drier and warmer. The prosthetic nose and chin were rather a pain. My pointy toed boots were even worse, though, after three hours on my feet. But the wide-eyed little tykes in fairy wings and hockey gear were just as adorable as ever. I will never get tired of playing dress up…or eating chocolate.
Halloween is a big thing in SF too. Bigger than Christmas, Easter & Thanksgiving combined. What’s more, this is a city with less than 15% of the population under age 18. Although the block parties for the tykes are outrageous and the trick or treaters go out in force, Halloween is an adult holiday here. We’re all about costumes just about any time of year, and Halloween is the perfect time to get funky or get fabulous, strut your stuff, and ask for sugar. Seguing into Day of the Dead, with parades & altars throughout the Mission, this holiday needs at least a month for full celebration.
We also have a full complement of pagan ritual to bring gravitas to the season. Have a blessed Samhain and may the alchemy of this season release you from the fear of the dark and bring you into the light of a new year.