Whatever Happened to Halloween?  

Posted by Heidi in

It was a week before The Big Night and I was perusing the internet when I ran across the video of a house lit up for the holidays, a very slick and well-done light show coordinated with music, singing faces, the works. Only it wasn’t for Christmas—it was for Halloween.

It got me to thinking. A thousand years ago (a few decades prior to my birth) Christmas was celebrated by people dressing up in costume, going from door to door enacting plays and begging for goodies. Over time, traditions changed and Christmas became a more private holiday that centered around home and family celebrated via extravagant
meals, the exchanging of gifts and in more recent decades, houses lit up with multiple lights, including some very slick and well-done lights shows coordinated with music, etc.

So, as The Spouse and I headed out for our morning walk, I said to him: Halloween is becoming the new Christmas. A few days later I heard a radio show DJ state some statistics as to how much money people in America spend per person per Halloween each year and how it is almost as much as what we spend for Christmas. “Halloween is becoming the new Christmas,” he said. “Ha!” I said, “I said it first!” (I enjoy being right.)

Moi, going for the haunted equestrian look but instead capturing the spitting image of the thing that scared me most as a child--the kid catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang who was, incidentally, a very ugly man.

It’s all very fun and festive (and expensive) and though I have always loved Halloween and fully participated in it to the hilt, believe me you, I miss the homespun classic Halloweens of my youth. Not that change isn’t good—it clearly is. For example, my father knew Halloween as Clothes Cutting Night because he and his friends would spend the evening cutting in two the clotheslines and knocking over the outhouses of their neighbors (the clothes line thing I sort of get but the outhouse thing seems fraught with too much collateral damage) (and I have just really dated myself, haven’t I?).

In the movie Meet Me In St. Louis, the first part of the film depicts a Halloween party set in the Edwardian period (right after the Victorian era and before the roaring 20’s) where-in Halloween included dressing up like hobos (the Edwardian term for homeless men) and vandalizing the neighbors by taking whatever wasn’t nailed down out of their yards and off of their porches and hurling it into a huge bonfire in the middle of the road.

Dressing up in costume and trick or treating has got to be a huge improvement (though trucks loaded down with egg-hurling hooligans zipping past knots of trick or treaters was a Halloween staple of my youth and not a very fun one).

However, this same movie depicts scenes featuring much of what I have always loved about Halloween: carving pumpkins, spooky d├ęcor made by children at school proudly
displayed in the windows, bobbing for apples, digging around in your parents’ closet for costumes, filching your sister’s make-up so as to masquerade as a pretty but tawdry witch, and lots of ghosts, goblins, scarecrows and black cats.

Nowadays women, from teeny-boppers to grandmothers, think of Halloween as an opportunity to unleash their inner Lady of the Night decked out in costumes (well, there isn’t much decking with costumes the size of a dinner napkin) like Naughty Nurse, Over-sexed Vampiress, Super Buxom Medieval Woman and Plunging Neckline Whomever. Black cats do make an appearance but the cat costumes I saw this year seemed to have been partially shredded at the factory.

Where, I ask are the witches? Where are the ghosts? Where are the goblins? the Draculas? the caramel apples? the broomsticks?

Not that this is about ethics and morals--not really. This is about what has happened to my classic homespun childhood Halloween. Case in point: my 16 year old daughter . . .

at least she's completely covered, something for which I am grateful

. . . went out trick or treating with her friends (in my youth my mother always had something to say about any older boys—it was only boys who dared--who knocked on the door after 8 PM asking for candy) while my 10 year old eschewed the entire process of dressing up and trick or treating (he did wear a sign on his sweatshirt that read “pedestrian” to a party a few nights prior) . . .

. . . which meant that my 21 year old Big Guy who adores Halloween and starts talking non-stop about his costume come September 1st . . .

Le Big Guy as Link from Legend of Zelda, the adult version, he hastens to add . . .

. . . could hardly say that he wanted to go trick or treating. Instead, I drove the two of them around the neighborhood (that is to say the expensive neighborhood adjacent to us and by adjacent I mean down the road and up the hill) to look at the highly decorated houses, a cherished Christmas tradtion from my youth, I might add.

We saw homes decorated like something out of a horror flick, the one whose name I can’t remember where the entire town is swathed in cobwebs made by gargantuan spiders starring Captain Kirk. We saw a home that looked as if the set of Pirates of the Caribbean (minus one very much missed Captain Sparrow) had taken a break on their front lawn, and another that was decorated with scenes from The Nightmare Before Christmas, all very fun and well done but just so . . . slick. Several homes had cleaned-out garages (a heck of a lot of work for a holiday that is not celebrating something truly important) and turned it into a scary room in an insane asylum complete with sharp and evil implements of torture. Everywhere we looked there were funkins, those pumpkins that are made of foam and come already carved, and there were tons and tons of those mechanical creatures, most of them either zombies or skeletons or Zombie Skeletons (I love me my zombies as much as the next girl but too much of a gory, gross, icky thing gets old.) I don’t think we saw a single Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, Wolfman or plain old ghost anywhere. (We did see one house on a street called Regency where the owner’s had decorated their porch with skeleton hobo types lounging ominously on rockers and holding a sign that said “Occupy Regency”. Gotta love that.)

Then I saw it—a remnant of my childhood Halloweens. As the street we were on dead ended, a vision rose up into my headlights that made my heart glad; on the porch directly ahead of me was a pair of witches complete with pointy hats, black dresses and curly shoes. They were seated at a little table across from one another cackling like hens, exactly as witches are wont to do. I felt suffused with a happy, Grinch-like glow, almost as if I had just spotted the real Santa

Tune in next time for: whatever happened to Christmas?

(Change of subject, here—or perhaps this could fall into the Halloween Horror category, depending on how you feel about it—for those of you who have wanted to read Miss Delacourt Speaks Her Mind and Miss Delacourt Has Her Day but hasn’t gotten around to it what with raising children and other paltry things or who choose to spend the price of one of my books on putting food on the table or making the mortgage, there is a give away of the set (two, count ‘em, two beautiful hardback books all about Miss D and her rocky road to true love) hosted by Inspired Kathy of I’m A Reader Not a Writer. If you don’t want them for yourselves, let me point out that they make a lovely, and to the winner, a free Christmas gift for the lover of all things regency and clean romance. If you have already read my books and even purchased them and even actually said nice things about them, I love and adore you and I can’t say enough good things about you and there is nothing I can do for you that would be too much and can I offer you a mechanical zombie whose insides are being eat out by a mechanical rat?)

This entry was posted on Sunday, November 6, 2011 at Sunday, November 06, 2011 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

6 wise, witty and wonderful comments

I miss the fun parts of Halloween too. You look great!

November 6, 2011 at 8:13 PM

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang---possibly the creepiest movie of all time!!

I'm okay with Halloween getting skipped and ignored. I've never liked it. I do however, LOVE, Meet Me In St. Louis!

November 7, 2011 at 8:29 AM

So many fun things about your post! I enjoyed reading it! You and the kiddos look great! :)

I still use the word "Hobo" on a daily basis! :)

November 8, 2011 at 11:01 AM

Love your costumes! I hope your Halloween turned out to be great. And I agree with you that Halloween has definitely changed!

November 9, 2011 at 8:00 AM

the adult Link is so much cooler than the punk kid Link... but don't tell my kids I said that, they think I'm too engrossed in my reading to notice what they play on the game systems :)

and yes, Halloween has gotten a little "trampier" over the years - I shudder to think what would happen if it were actually WARM in October and those girls didn't have to cover up with something...

November 10, 2011 at 2:37 PM

I was completely scared crazy over that child catcher....

You are so cute in your costume!

November 14, 2011 at 7:14 PM

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