Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Child's October, Part 2

[Another belated post!]

Before I had a child, I had never been trick-or-treating. My parents believed that Halloween was in conflict with their Christian beliefs, so we went to parties at our church instead. We wore wonderfully creative costumes that my mom made and we got plenty of candy at those church parties, so when I was a child I didn't feel deprived of anything. But now I absolutely love Halloween and I think there is nothing like trooping door to door. I love the festive feeling of the night as our neighborhood teems with costumed kids and adults. We live in an especially good neighborhood for trick-or-treating because the streets are on a grid and lined with sidewalks; people come over from the surrounding neighborhoods and this year Tim (who stays home to dispense candy while N. and I make the rounds) counted over 150 trick-or-treaters at our door (excluding accompanying parents). The scene is always enlivened by the students from the nearby local public arts high school/college who dress to the nines and sometimes sing for their candy.

This year N. trick-or-treated with one of his best friends and they had so much fun together. I loved seeing their glee at the spookily decorated houses. One neighbor is apparently a lighting designer at the school of the arts, and her house featured fog, lights, spider webs, a costumed man leaping out of a coffin, etc. It was so well done! Last year, N. wouldn't have enjoyed it, but this year he and his friend thought it was just scary enough to be really fun.

N. and his pirate friend. N. (at his insistence, of course) has been a black cat 4 years in a row.

We were proud of our simple ghost haunting our yard.

I like the traditional trick-or-treating, neighborhood Halloween more than any other substitute because we are out celebrating the season with our neighbors, both those who are our friends and those we don't know well. Halloween is a kind of antidote to our era's social fragmentation.

I love that it is a holiday of generosity and excess; when I was a kid I used to marvel at the very idea of trick-or-treating because it seemed it would violate all my social conditioning to ring a stranger's doorbell and ask for candy. How totally bizarre it must be to do that!! At the same time, our era's sanitized version of Halloween (parents and cars all over the place) is nothing like what Tim experienced as a child, when "Trick or treat, soap or eat" was a genuine threat. As much as it seems to violate social norms to ask strangers for candy, social rituals are strongly emphasized in today's Halloween as children are reminded to say "Trick-or-treat" when the door opens and then to be sure to say "Thank you!" (I was annoyed at myself for falling into this as I walked with my friends, the parents of N.s friend. We were repeatedly reminding the boys to say "thank you" and I really don't think that should matter much at Halloween!).

We haven't talked much yet with N. about the complex origins of Halloween, though these were exactly what disturbed my parents when I was young. But as the streets of our neighborhood are thronged with ghosts and witches and cackles and howls ring in the air, I like to think we are connected to an ancient way of marking the season as it turns, wondering what it will hold for us, and thinking of those no longer with us.

Tim hoped to ward off swine flu with this sick jack-o-lantern.


mandy said...

i have a hard time with my conflicting feelings regarding this holiday so we celebrate it in a nontraditional manner for many of the same reasons your parents did. but i grew up doing the trick or treat thing and i loved it b/c it was about the only thing that i did with my dad. ever. i miss that. i didn't realize that people still went trick or treating. i thought that it had sorta died out. we live in an old neighborhood out in the country and we don't get them here. looks like you had fun!

Fanny Harville said...

Hi Mandy,
It was actually your post about Halloween that spurred some of my thinking in this post! I was going to comment on your blog, but decided to wait, gather my thoughts a bit, and write here instead. I hope it was clear that I don't disrespect your approach to Halloween in the slightest!