Wednesday, October 27, 2010

All Hallows Month

When I was a kid, Halloween was on October 31st. We figured out what our costume was going to be sometime between October 25th and the 30th, and we dressed up for one night and set out on a mission for candy with our pillowcase in hand to hold the loot. Our costumes were simple, and consisted of clothes or cardboard and duct tape that we already had at home. The houses in the neighborhood were decorated with a single jack-o-lantern and a porch light that was turned off.

These days, Halloween is still on the 31st, but it has turned into a month-long event. We purchase our kid’s costumes at giant seasonal Halloween warehouse stores, and we do it in September. The kids wear their costumes to school, birthday parties, church functions, and around the house throughout the month of October. By the time Halloween night finally rolls around, the kids are putting the costume back on for the 200th time. Families begin preparing their houses for the big night promptly on October 1st. There is no time to spare. The house must be decorated from sidewalk to roof.

To be honest, I’m not even sure why we have Halloween anymore. In my day, we trick-or-treated to get candy. Plain and simple. We never had candy the rest of the year. At least, we didn’t at my house.

If you do not currently have small children, you may not be aware of a disturbing trend in birthday parties and get-togethers known as “The Gift Bag.” These days when kids attend a birthday party, the guests all go home with a “thanks-for-coming” goody bag full of little toys and candy. That strange new development, combined with the fact that almost every party has a piñata, has my children bringing home more candy from one birthday party than I saw all year as a kid.

And, let’s talk about pumpkins for a minute. I don’t really remember where my parents purchased our pumpkins when I was growing up. We may have gone to a pumpkin patch, or maybe they just picked them up at the store. One thing is for sure, we did not buy them at an amusement park like my kids do. Somewhere between my youth and my becoming a parent, the pumpkin patch turned into Disneyland for Vine Fruit. There are parking fees, parking attendants, gate fees, gate attendants, food pavilions with $8 hot dogs, train rides, petting zoos, side shows, giant play structures, face painting, cotton candy, stroller parking, support staff, hay rides, pig races, haunted barns, and… oh, yeah… pumpkins.

And how about the change in decorating for this “holiday?” Gone is the simple one jack-o-lantern porch. My wife has no less than three huge plastic storage tubs on our garage shelves dedicated to Halloween decorations. She chooses to mix genres when it comes to the outdoor decorations. We have the cutesy country décor hay bale and scarecrow on the front porch, combined with the spooky giant spider web and grotesquely large furry black spiders guarding the front door. We have eight small ghosts flying around underneath our tree on the front lawn, and they have been vigilantly guarding the place for three weeks now.

You will notice I said “outdoor” decorations. One very big change since my youth is the addition of indoor decorations for this all-important month-long holiday. We have Frankenstein on our sliding glass door. We have ghosts on our microwave. The boys have ghost and goblin pillow cases. We have a four-foot-tall witch on our staircase landing. We have a wood carving of the word “Boo.” We have scary napkins. There is something Halloweeny in every room in our house. Yes, every room. We actually have fuzzy jack-o-lantern floor mat/toilet seat cover combos for the bathrooms. Our toilets have been reminding us of the impending All Hallows Eve since October 3rd. That’s different.

I think the biggest change I’ve seen over the years, however, has been the change in the point of Halloween. The reason for the season, if you will. In my grandpa’s day, Halloween was a night of mischief. He and his friends used to roam around on October 31st performing one simple, yet effective prank on as many homes as they could hit in one night. They would sneak into the backyard and move the outhouse. Apparently, most outhouses just sat over the hole without much foundation, and they would slide them backward, just one outhouse width, so the hole was open to the world in front of the door. They were hoping for the inevitable outcome if the homeowner didn’t notice the outhouse had been moved in the dark. (I’ll let you take it from there.) And if you happened to get a backside full of birdshot while relocating someone’s commode, well, that was simply the price you paid for having so much fun.

In my day, we went out on Halloween to make sure our neighbors were following the rules. We felt we were owed candy, much like a mob boss is owed protection money. We said, “trick or treat,” and we meant it. If there was no treat, there was going to be a trick. The older kids had eggs or soap for the windows. Fair was fair. We wore costumes for the same reason armed robbers wear ski masks - anonymity. People had candy by the front door out of self defense more than anything else. When someone decorated their house above and beyond the single jack-o-lantern, they were actually trying to scare the kids away, not entertain them. Halloween was a night run by the kids and tolerated by the adults.

Today, in the suburban neighborhoods across this land, Halloween has been hijacked by the adults. We adorn our front lawns and living rooms for our own amusement, often competing with our neighbors in a game of decoration one-upsmanship that used to be reserved only for Christmas lights. We buy our kids expensive costumes so they can look just like a Star Wars storm trooper or Hannah Montana as we escort them from house to house and congratulate each other on how cool the front lawn graveyard looks with this year’s addition of the fog machine. If people don’t have candy, or no one’s home, we just say, “Oh, well,” and move on to the next house.

What is that all about? We’ve managed to get way off point here. How will our kids ever know what Halloween is really all about?

Come to think of it, what is Halloween really all about? It’s been a weird deal since its inception. Moving outhouses? Defacing your neighbor’s property as part of a sucrose extortion racket? That’s just plain strange.

The more I think about it, the more I think this new trend is a good thing. I mean, there’s always a truck-load of candy at the end of the night that I get to commandeer for my own consumption, my outhouse hardly ever gets moved anymore, and I never have to try to get soap off my windows. Plus, my boys get into enough mischief the other 364 days of the year as it is. I guess it’s OK if we’ve moved away from the annual night of mandated mayhem toward a kinder, gentler Halloween.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go turn on the hydraulics for the automatic creaky coffin lid and re-fill the water tank on the new fog machine. I am SO going to out-do my neighbor Bob this year!

See you soon,

Copyright © 2010 Marc Schmatjen

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