Happy Halloween, everyone. I had intended to use this space to tell you more about my upcoming book, but in honor of the holiday, I'm postponing that blog in favor of a small rant. If you're dying to know what will appear in chapters 9 through 11, tune in tomorrow. In the meantime.. . . .
I woke up this morning already disappointed with the day -- not a good way to start a Monday, I admit. I used to love Halloween, and not just when I was a kid. Even as a serious-minded college professor, I loved the students who dared to come to class in costume. I enjoyed watching the neighborhood urchins prance around all day in their outfits. I hung ghosts from the trees in the front yard, and carved pumpkins long after my son was old enough to do it himself (or not!). I planned special menus for Halloween dinner -- things like witch's brooms carved from celery and curled in ice water, or devil's food cake topped with gummy worms.
Even my classroom lectures sometimes took on a Halloween theme. How convenient is it that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the cathedral door on October 31? I got to portray that as perhaps the most profound Halloween prank ever played. If all else failed, I could entertain a medieval history class with tales of corn festivals, or the periodic practice of letting the powerless (read: children) take over the ruling (read: adult) world for a day.
But gradually someone took the fun out of Halloween. Harmless pranks have been called vandalism. Now, I definitely was never in favor of tipping over outhouses, but I saw no real harm in creeping up to a neighbor's window and using a noisemaker to spook the people inside. My father even taught me how to make the noisemaker with an empty thread spool, a pencil, and a piece of string. (For the record, you take a wooden spool, notch the edges of top and bottom, suspend it on a pencil, and wrap a piece of string around the spool. Then you hold it against the window glass, and make it spin by pulling the string.) We got away with soaping windows, too, which had the effect of making sure that everyone in the neighborhood had sparkling clean windows going into winter.
We planned costumes for weeks, rather than plucking one off the rack at Costco, and pretty costumes were as much in demand as witches and ghosts. Now costumes are mainly for adults, and they feature such delights as ghouls or zombies, or sexy French maids and political figures. Isn't the real world scary enough?
And that brings up to whole subject of Trick or Treat. We have not had a single child come to our door for candy in the past seven years. Of course, we live in a neighborhood heavily populated by senior citizens, and in the next-door housing complex, our neighbors are Baptist seminary students. ( If they have small children, they take them to a harvest celebration in the church basement.)
But I hear the same stories from all over town. Most little kids don't "trick or treat" anymore. The ones that do come around are costume-less teenagers with pillowcases, surly and threatening. Where are the cute little tykes in bumblebee outfits? If they go out at all, they probably go somewhere "safe" like the local indoor mall, not out in the old, dark streets. I miss them. I even miss the student who knocked on our door one Halloween with her cat all decked out in a pumpkin costume.
And speaking of cats, I have just been reminded that October 31 is the birthday of our big orange cat. He really should have been named Pumpkin, I suppose, but his name -- Dundee -- suits him better. Actually, I named him after a brand of Scottish marmelade, but he has always thought he was named after Crocodile Dundee and behaved accordingly. He makes a good Halloween spook to have around.
Ah, well. We have lost the art of celebrating Halloween, I suppose, lost it under a load of rumors about devil worshippers and fear of drug pushers. Now we have dentists who urge kids to turn in their candy --drugstores that offer to test all handouts for drugs -- hospitals that will x-ray homemade treats for needles or razor blades.
I mourn the loss of a fun holiday--one marked by letting kids be kids, if only for a few hours. I intend to stage my own tiny protest against the loss by serving mummy dogs for dinner and eating more chocolate than I should. Hope you find a way to celebrate.