Growing up, I have three very distinct memories of Halloween. The first is of my mother and father working in the Haunted House that the fire department used to put on as a fundraiser each year. My mom was president of the Ladies’ Auxiliary and every year they would rent some dilapidated, run-down, vacant house in our hometown and turn it into the best, most frightfully delightful haunted house my elementary-school eyes had ever seen. Despite spending innumerous evenings with my parents and the other firefighters and their wives, watching them (in broad daylight, mind you) transform the house into a dwelling of shrieks and spooks and spine-tingling goodness, despite the fact that I played in the same house in the daytime with my friends and I KNEW how un-scary the house really was, despite the fact that every year I would promise my mom and dad that THIS year I wouldn’t be so scared that I almost wet my pants, well, despite all that, every year I freaked out. I clearly recall the humiliation of hearing my mom’s best friend Diane yelling out at the front door, “Knock it off, you guys, it’s Betty’s kid and she’s crying already!” before ever crossing the threshold and knowing that once again, those firefighters with their vampire and mummy costumes, fake blood and strobe lights, had successfully freaked me the hell out. Yet I went back, year after year.
The second memory involves a Halloween Costume Party I remember my parents attending. My parent’s weren’t “date-night” kind of people, so for them to leave my sister and me with our grandparents and get dressed up to go to a costume party was huge. My dad went as a blackface (I know! How incredibly un-PC could we be?!?!? It was the 70’s, is my only defense, and people weren’t quite as “enlightened” as they are today) and my mom went as a cannibal woman, complete with a crazy hair and make-up, a bamboo reed skirt and a bone in her nose. Ah, what I wouldn't give for a picture of that. I remember thinking it was so cool they were going to a grown-up party, and loving both of their costumes. When they came home later that evening, my mom told me they had stopped at McDonalds to grab a quick bite (What? They didn’t serve food at the party?) She stood in line behind a woman ordering food, who turned around, saw my mom and nearly jumped out of her skin. I remember thinking that was the funniest damn thing I had ever heard and that my mom was the coolest ever.
My third memory of Halloween is not quite as warm-fuzzy. Let me preface this by saying that although I love my mom dearly, I have to admit that inventiveness wasn’t her strong suite. In between the haunted houses, and cannibal woman episode, I think she had about used up her creative streak and Halloween wasn’t real high on her priority list.
This is the only photo I have from my younger Halloweens:
The picture, obviously, is me and my younger sister dressed up to go trick-or-treating. I especially like the fold-out paper pumpkin decoration behind my sister's head. I assume we’re going trick-or-treating, since I'm holding a pumpkin bucket, but maybe that’s not right. In fact, the back of the photo is labeled “1969 Halloween”, which I find hard to believe, considering that means my sister wouldn’t even be a year old and clearly, in this picture, she is upright, walking, and holding what appears to be a cigar in her hand. I think perhaps my mom had been hypnotized by the ugly sun-dial clock in the background and had her years confused. But nevertheless, it appears we were going trick-or-treating, although I have no recollection of that.
What I *DO* recollect, clearly, however, are the years we went trick-or-treating when we were older. Really, it was pretty much a non-event in our neighborhood. The year that stands out most in my memory is the year I was probably ten or eleven, and my mom forgot to get us costumes, so at 4:00 on Halloween afternoon, panicked because I had no outfit, I improvised by putting two balloons in the chest of my pajamas and went as a “clown”. I have no idea what my sister went as. Probably a hobo. We did "hobo" a lot.
My mom didn’t want to go with us, but didn’t want us out after dark by ourselves, either, so we went door-to-door at something like 4:30 in the afternoon. It was still broad daylight, and in fact, I remember walking up the front steps of one neighbor’s house just as he was coming home from work. “Geez, could you kids at least give me time to eat dinner and get to the store to buy some candy?” was his greeting. Another lady met us with an exasperated sigh and said, “Hang on, I’ll go see if I can find something.” That was the year I decided I was too old to trick-or-treat any longer, and realized that my neighbors were a big bunch of poopie heads.
My point is that Halloween wasn’t a huge thing in our neighborhood growing up, and that’s ok. But I want it to be fun for my kids and go to a lot of effort to make it enjoyable. I want their Halloween memories to be good ones. Not that mine aren’t good, but you know what I mean. Which is why, although I’ll probably catch some flack for it, I’m going to go way out on an unpopular limb here and say something incredibly mean-spirited, but about which I feel strongly in my bones: You. You, there. You people with the church “Fall Festival” on Trick or Treat Night ….. You’re really cramping my style. Quite frankly, you annoy me.
There. Now I feel better.
The first few years we lived in this neighborhood, Halloween night was a like a wonderful Norman Rockwell painting, with dozens and dozens of costumed kids running everywhere, laughing, chasing one another, and parents strolling along, enjoying a balmy night and pleasant, neighborly atmosphere. Many of the houses in our neighborhood decorate for Halloween, people play Halloween music (well, ok, *I* play Halloween music, me and the guy down the street) and folks sit out on their porches with their candy bowls in their lap, waving to the adults as they follow the kids from house to house. Ours was the kind of neighborhood that people, who don’t even live here, drive to on Halloween night to go trick-or-treating. Sure, a few grumpy neighbors leave their lights off, but so many people take part it doesn’t matter.
And that’s the gist of what I loved about Halloween in our neighborhood. In this busy, busy day and age of jobs and hobbies and church and after-school-kids-activities and “Oh my gosh we have to stay inside tonight and watch Dancing With the Stars” and all the other stuff people have going on in their lives, a time where some people wouldn’t recognize their next door neighbor if they backed into them in the Kroger parking lot, it was one night each year where all our neighbors were outside, walking around, saying hello. We don’t have block parties on the 4th of July, nor does anyone go caroling at Christmas. But by golly, Halloween was a real sense of community, and I loved it. Most of all, I loved it for my kids.
Then, you people with your paranoid “We want to provide a safer, more family-oriented alternative to Devil’s night” …. Well, you’re spoiling everything.
I have no problem with the idea of a Fall Festival at a church or mall. Quite the opposite; I think it’s great. More power to you. I just wish you would do it the weekend before or after. Our church did it last weekend. Why can’t the rest of you do the same?
Because, for the record, you’re ruining my neighborhood trick-or-treat night. This year, there were markedly fewer trick-or-treaters in our neighborhood. Don’t get me wrong, I still went through six party-sized bags of candy, but definitely fewer kids going door-to-door. Fewer neighbors I got to see and say hello. And for every family that chose to celebrate someplace else, that meant one more empty house for my own trick-or-treaters. It makes me sad to hear the disappointment in their voices when they run up to the next house, only to realize all the lights are off, and hear them say, “I guess they’re not home” …. Houses that just a year or two ago, took part.
Why do you make these people choose between their neighbors and their “church family”?
I asked one of Kellen’s classmates yesterday if he was excited to go trick-or-treating and he replied his parents didn’t believe in Halloween and wouldn’t allow him to trick or treat. Then turned around and excitedly told me about the costume he would be wearing to his church’s Fall Party that night.
OK, um, .. hello? Costumes and trunk or treating in a church parking lot? To quote Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman: “That’s just geography”. You’re still celebrating the holiday and you’re not fooling anyone with your big, goofy scarecrows holding big, goofy “Fall Festival” signs … call it what you will …. It’s Halloween.
And those of you who are worried about the safety of going door to door and collecting candy from strangers …..well, right. Because inviting the entire town to join you at church means there won’t be any strangers at your celebration? It’s an Outreach Ministry, this Fall Festival you are hosting, and in fact, you’re hoping lots of newcomers (ie, strangers) attend. I’d bet there are MORE strangers there than at your next-door neighbors house. Strangers are strangers, it doesn’t make it safer if they’re in a church. Don’t believe me? Ask any Catholic.
I don’t know, where was I going with this? Mainly I’m just annoyed that under the guise of “Fall Festival”, strategically held on Halloween night, you’re chipping away at my neighborhood celebration, and at the memories I’m trying to make for my kids. As my kids were running around the front yard in their costumes last night, waiting for it to get dark so we could start, I saw two neighbor families come outside with their own costumed children, take pictures, then get in their cars and drive away. My kids saw it too. When my neighbors choose to spend the evening at a church or mall or anyplace having a “festival”, and not with me and my children, I take it a little bit personally, even if that seems silly. Despite the claim of fostering community spirit, I’d say off-neighborhood fall festivals are doing just the opposite. And no, I won’t be adopting the “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” philosophy. *OUR* happy family memory will be of one parent taking the kids trick-or-treating, while the other parent sits in the front yard with a candy bowl, Halloween For Kids music in the background, big blow-up spider on the lawn, greeting the neighbors.
Brayden, rock star, Kellen, ninja who refused to wear the ninja mask because it was too itchy, and Kendrie, Evil Kneivel.
And for the record, you fall-festival people, you, the kids still trick-or-treat. I can’t tell you how many children came by our door late last night after returning home from the church. By then, of course, my kids were done treating and had already walked past all their empty houses. I guess, in the spirit of fairness, I should have turned off my porch light since none of those people were home when my kids went door-to-door. But that would be un-neighborly. And it would make me like the grumpy neighbors from my past, so I didn’t.
Now, before anyone blasts me in the guestbook for being a Druid-loving pagan, please know that’s not what this is about. I’m not anti-fall-festival. It’s just that I don’t understand why communities can’t have both, on different nights. One night for celebrating with your church family, and one night for celebrating and enjoying your neighbors. There are too few opportunities for neighbors to spend time together, and I hate that this one is being ruined.
And yes, for the record, the Book Fairy did come to our house last night. This is Kendrie, gathering her candy "donation". Because Blaine and I enjoy