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October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

Filed under: American culture,holidays,New Broads — by maggiec @ 9:09 pm

It’s been 13 years since I’ve been in America for Halloween, and what a difference.  It’s become so commercialized in that time that I’m totally turned off by the holiday.  I’m sure it was happening before I left, but seeing all of the Halloween-themed merchandise at the stores is utterly shocking.  Have we gone mad?

Back when I was a kid, Halloween was for kids.  Sometimes we had cheap nylon costumes with plastic masks, but often we had homemade costumes—one of our favorites was dad’s old clothes, dirt rubbed on the face and violá, a bum.  And the bought costumes were packed away in the attic, and recycled year after year.  I still have the bright orange oil cloth trick or trick sack my grandmother made me in 1967.  A lot of the costumes now are topical, so I wonder about their shelf life.  And there are just as many costumes for adults as there are for kids, and I’ve seen more dog and cat costumes (as in for your cat or dog) then I can imagine.  Why on earth would I want to dress my cat up for Halloween?  I think she just might have something to say to that, as well.

A couple of the homes here are decorated up with lights, lawn ornaments, graveyards.  It’s like Christmas done in orange and black.  I look at some of the things, and I’m tempted.  Wouldn’t it look nice to have a lawn display like that, I think.  It would be so cool.  But then I hang back, aware I’m being caught up in consumerism.  We have pumpkins on the stoop and mums, but that’s seasonal decoration.  It looks nice.  And I broke down and made up two headstones from slabs of Styrofoam that came in a flat pack desk I bought recently.  When I saw them, I said, “Look, tombstones.”  I used black magic markers and did a stone for Vlad Dracul, 1283-1898, and another for Ichabad Crane, making reference to the Headless Horseman.  I propped them up on the pine tree outside for “atmosphere”.  I thought about getting a plastic skull to add, but I restrained myself.

Part of me wonders if this is all just part of the burgeoning consumerism I see engulfing America.  Another part of me wonders if it’s my generation.  In large measure, we don’t seem to want to grow up.  Our parents saw Halloween as something for kids.  All they did was give us a curfew and inspect our candy.  Now it seems as if we want to continue having Halloween be as much fun for us now as it was then, so we’re horning in on the kids’ day.

My son sometimes gets upset with me because he missed out on Halloween.  Sometimes I’m sad he did, as well.  Now he’s still got no friends in the area, so he’s wishing he had something cool to do today.  When I think back to Halloween when I was his age—16 going on 17—I don’t remember it being a big deal.  Trick or treating was something for kids, and we were too grown up for that.  In fact, now I’m remembering what I did.  I was hired to take neighborhood kids around trick or treating, and I hung back with the other parents, feeling like I was all grown up and watching the kids at play. 

When I got to college there were costume parties for Halloween, but then back in college there were parties every weekend, so it was just a good excuse.  And we dressed up, but the girls were certainly not dressed like streetwalkers.  I still have pictures of friends dressed as Raggedy Ann, a lion, a punk, an alcoholic housewife complete with flannel jammies, curlers and a fake belly bulge, and a huge pumpkin.  And the pumpkin girl was covering a cute little figure, so sexy just wasn’t part of the equation.

Hm, sex and consumerism have taken over what was once an innocent day for children.  And to add to my shock, the woman downstairs from me told me that the kids can’t celebrate Halloween in school in order not to offend people’s religious sensibilities.  Times have changed.  Yeah, I know it’s a holiday based on pagan beliefs, but really, it was just a good excuse to dress up and get candy.  I don’t think any of us took the witches and goblins any more seriously than we took the witches and flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz.

Poor kids.  Poor America. 

And lest you think I’m a total curmudgeon, I have a plastic bucket full of candy, and I’m actually anxiously looking forward to the trick or treaters tonight.  I love the costumes, I love the excitement, I love the childish faces enjoying a rite of childhood.  I don’t mind buying the candy, either.  But I don’t want to buy into the need to buy “stuff”.



  1. I think there were always topical costumes — at least, I clearly remember Nixon masks from my childhood.

    I am trying to decide if I should bestir myself to go into the city and watch the parade. I think they show it on TV now so I could be a slug and just watch it from home, but it’s fun to go in person, too.

    I’m sad that many places don’t have trick or treating anymore because it’s perceived as unsafe for children to ring doorbells. (Though you’re right; 16 was much too old for it. Teenagers went out later and caused trouble, broke car windshields, defaced property, etc., you know, the trick part.) Most people I know who have young kids go to some organized church or neighborhood activity instead. Hope you have a great and spooky night! 🙂

    Comment by Emily — October 31, 2007 @ 9:44 pm |Reply

  2. I’m just that little bit older than you that makes the difference.

    We had some trick or treaters, so that was fun!

    Comment by maggiec — November 1, 2007 @ 3:24 am |Reply

  3. Hummm…consumerism and holidays seem to be two inseparable things nowadays. I still recall the movie Almost Famous, the professor mom (by Frances McDormand) forbids her children to celebrate most holidays, saying most of them are ideology…
    I just love her courage and insistence. (And of course, McDormand’s performance.)

    Comment by Julia — November 1, 2007 @ 4:10 am |Reply

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