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Oct 20 2013

Going over the top with Halloween

Halloween is coming up on October 31. It is not an occasion that I particularly care for and I did not encourage my own children to take part in it for many reasons. I don’t get the fascination with zombies and ghosts and the supernatural in general, and this holiday’s activities give them a patina of credibility that is unwarranted. I also don’t like the emphasis on gorging on candy. I especially don’t like the ‘trick or treat’ aspect, the underlying principle essentially consisting of going door to door, accosting strangers, and extorting candy from them, even if it is done in fun.

Having said all that, we do stock up with candy and hand it out to the children who come to our door, mainly because many of them are neighborhood children whom we know, and the little ones do look cute in their costumes. But I also notice that we get quite a lot of children who seem to come from elsewhere, being dropped off by parents in cars, which suggests an organized effort to accumulate candy that seems excessive. And there are even people who look like they are in high school and don’t even bother with costumes. One would have thought that they would have outgrown the attraction of getting free candy.

What would be fun without all the downsides listed above is having a party for little children where they get to dress up in costumes and play games and get candy. That would be fine by me.

But what I dislike most about Halloween and astonishes me is how much adults have gotten into it and, as often the case with adults, go over the top and go to great lengths trying to find ways to terrify children, as in this case, where an outdoor decoration of corpses was so realistic that it resulted in the police being called in.

Why would you try and scare children (and even adults) so much? Inexplicably (to me at least) is that people seem to take a perverse pride in doing so.

19 comments

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  1. 1
    Al Dente

    I also don’t like the emphasis on gorging on candy.

    My father was a dentist. When I was a child we weren’t allowed to keep most of the candy we extorted from the neighbors. At the time I thought that was incredibly unfair. When I became a parent I saw the wisdom of my father’s dictate.

  2. 2
    invivoMark

    My opinion of the holiday is the opposite of Mano’s! It’s one of the totally secular holidays we get to celebrate (it originated from religious beliefs but is now so far removed from those beliefs that it doesn’t matter).

    It encourages creativity, for both adults and children. What other holiday does that? Children get to be creative about their costumes, pumpkin carving, etc. Adults get to be creative about home decoration. A few of them in my childhood even went so far as to make a “haunted garage” experience, which was always fun for children. And what’s not to like about letting a child, for one day in the year, be whatever they want to be?

    It’s also a holiday that remains fun into one’s young adult years, at the age when most people haven’t started families. Sure, you can have a barbecue on Memorial day or set off fireworks on July 4th, but when else is creativity so rewarded as on Halloween? When is creativity ever rewarded for young adults?

    My city, Madison, has a Halloween party every year on the main pedestrian street downtown, with thousands of people attending. It stimulates businesses, it gives people a relatively safe place to celebrate, and it lets people have one last hurrah before the weather gets too cold to party outside.

    There’s a lot to like about the holiday for all ages.

  3. 3
    Mano Singham

    Almost none of the things you like are the ones that I dislike, so we are not that far apart.

  4. 4
    raven

    One of the good parts of Halloween is the War on the War on Halloween.

    Fundies hate Halloween because they hate everything and have a hard time telling reality from fantasy. They think witches and demons are real among other things. Plus, they don’t really have holidays, they have wars on holidays.

    So every year there is a fundie War on Halloween. And a War on the War on Halloween.

    This year it got pushed aside by their other War. The War on the USA during their goverhment shutdown and hostage taking. But there is still time.

    I’m going to meet up with my elite commando unit for the holiday wars. We usually have lunch together and then go shopping.

  5. 5
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    But what I dislike most about Halloween and astonishes me is how much adults have gotten into it and, as often the case with adults, go over the top and go to great lengths trying to find ways to terrify children, as in this case, where an outdoor decoration of corpses was so realistic that it resulted in the police being called in.

    That is gross and totally inappropriate.
    Because seriously, the usual Halloween decoration over here (Germany, so we get it hand-me-downs from the States) is the usual pumpkins, tombstones, spiderwebs, skeletons, stuff that everybody can see is not real (and unless you train your kids to be scared by them won’t do them any actual harm) and that is safe fun.
    That, not at all because it resembles an actual murder-scene.
    Other than that, I love Halloween, zombies, witches, ghouls and funny scary food.
    Maybe I’ll do the kitty-litter cake this year.

  6. 6
    raven

    …I don’t get the fascination with zombies and ghosts and the supernatural in general,

    The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.” – Carl Sagan:

    It’s not fascination for some people. It is fear.

    A lot of the population, the fundie xians, live in a demon haunted darkness of their own making. They believe ghosts, demons, witches and so on are not only real but powerful agents in our world. Halloween must be a nightmare for them.

  7. 7
    Sastra

    One of the things I loved about Halloween as a child was being allowed to go around the neighborhood and have people open their doors to me. Anyone. Everyone. It was a little like I was family, belonged, connected. It was also both uniquely a rite of childhood and yet curiously grown-up. Trick-or-Treat was an opportunity to explore and go into neighborhoods beyond your neighborhood — how far can you walk? How many adults can you meet?

    I think Trick or Treating is as much about community as it is about candy.

    Plus, I enjoyed peering into the houses and catching glimpses of what was inside. Secrets revealed. How people decorate, how entry ways differ. (Okay, maybe this last one isn’t a standard joy of the holiday.)

  8. 8
    Mac Doktor

    My favorite holiday of the year. If the fundamentalists hate it there must be something good about it. Here are some pictures (click to enlarge) of my last Halloween setup:

    http://www.astarcloseup.com/2011/11/halloween-2011.html

    Everyone loved it.

  9. 9
    lorn

    I don’t think there is much extortion going on anymore. A one time, the 30 and 40s perhaps, kids could get pretty disruptive if not actually destructive. Egging and tipping of outhouses were known to happen. Even in my childhood I think a few eggs were thrown and a couple of trees got papered. Around my neighborhood all I can remember is that a few trashcans were tipped over. Not much of a shakedown really.

    If anything it is more a reason for people to walk around their neighborhood and get to know the neighbors. Perhaps build a little trust. If a kid can go to neighbors house to pantomime extortion they might be able to go there if they really needed help. Suburbs are too often anonymous.

    Halloween is a time to try on rolls and personalities. Life is full of situations where you need to wear several hats and take on rolls which may be mutually contradictory. It is a good lesson to learn that the roll people play may not be who they are when the mask comes off. The drill sergeant that calls you names and is mean to you may not dislike you. It isn’t personal. He/she is doing it because it is the best way of getting you to where you need to be mentally.

    Halloween is theatrical. Drama can be fun, it can be entertaining. It can emerge from the situation and be quite real, but it can also be manufactured. Manufactured for entertainment and fun, or for political effect. A valuable lesson when you see a politician ranting red faced or weeping.

  10. 10
    Rob Grigjanis

    I preferred the Guy Fawkes Nights of my childhood. Penny for the guy, and bonfires in the streets.

  11. 11
    sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d

    …and burning the pope and unpopular politicians in effigy.

  12. 12
    brucegee1962

    One of our family traditions each year is to watch the excellent video of Ray Bradbury’s Halloween Tree, which deals with this very question. Our copy has gone off with my son to college, so I looked for some good quotes online. I didn’t find the ones I wanted, but I found a good review, here: http://scottdparker.blogspot.com/2010/10/book-review-club-halloween-tree-by-ray.html

    “Not too long ago, the darkness in our world was quite a bit closer than it is now, at least in the modern western world. We have science to tell us the true nature of things. We can rely on it to cast away the superstitions and fears our ancestors had. Our children say “trick or treat” but don’t really know why.

    Halloween, however, is the celebration, the remembrance, of our past. It’s a cumulative organism now, an amalgamation of traditions and beliefs passed down. It’s a celebration of death as marked by the living. …. [O]n Halloween, for one day a year, we get to revel in the fear that our ancestors lived with daily. We get to remember. And, on November 1st, we get to put it all away and forget about it all over again.”

  13. 13
    NAL

    Secular holiday? Not anymore. Christian are trying to co-opt Halloween with Trunk-or-Treat. Commonly, an exclusive event held in church parking lots the day before Halloween.

  14. 14
    invivoMark

    That’s… kinda scary, judging by the pictures. Which is, I guess, not inappropriate for the holiday….

  15. 15
    Donovan

    When my sister moved to Georgia, her children were helpfully informed that Halloween was Satan’s birthday. How they know this is beyond me, and if you ask for evidence… …lol. What she decided on was a party for the small children. It was so much fun, several adults, including me, would visit and play games with the kids and watch “scary” movies like Peanuts’ Great Pumpkin. This year, even though we are all back in New England and living in great Trick or Treat areas, we’ll be doing the same with my young daughter.

    The last time I went Trick or Treating with kids was in an upscale neighborhood in Florida, where my best friend lives with his young girls. It was one of those places kids from all over get bused to for candy. But very few of the kids seemed to be having fun. It was some twisted, costumed dystopia of misery. It was more chore for most of the kids, many of them being yelled at for missing a house or for not being in character for their costume. It was just one big candy filled way for kids to be reminded by their parents what a disappointment they were. It was a sickening display.

  16. 16
    Guess Who?

    I loved Halloween when I was a child, and I still do. Growing up in the 1980s, it was very plain to see that society was not set up for Gen X. The music was for the Boomers, the television was for the Boomers, and the academic programs in the schools were being dismantled after the glory that was the Boomers passed through. Halloween was a night for kids my age to dress up and wander around town and be met with smiles by the adults around us. Now that I’m an adult, I enjoy dressing up and sitting on my sidewalk with other adult neighbors, chatting and handing out candy. That said, I’m technically in the south and we have our religious nutjobs that also claim Halloween is Satan’s birthday and want to ban it outright.

  17. 17
    Mano Singham

    This is what I feel. At a party, the children get to play with one another in costume for an extended time. By going door to door, they just have fleeting interactions with adults who don’t know them.

  18. 18
    Doug Little

    It’s a good time and a damn fine excuse to party. As a bonus there is tons of pearl clutching and couch fainting on behalf of the Fundies.

  19. 19
    Anthony K

    Meh: I never liked Halloween. As someone who’s professionally odd all year round, it’s amateur night.

    (My liver and I feel the same about drinking holidays, such as New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day. Those bars are around to sell you green beer because people like me keep them in business. Now get out of here: you’re sitting at my regular table.)

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