The earliest Hallowe’en I remember I was about seven. Mom had made crepe-paper costumes (made from a bought pattern) for my sister and me. I was somehow not thrilled, partly because my sister got to be a rose (her name is Rose), but I was a pumpkin. The indignity of it all! Especially as the shapes were built around shaped wire, so I was a little round orange ball who couldn’t sit back on her seat, and Rose was the lovely little rosy-cheeked girl in pink. Mom loved to sew, and I remember one year when she made my brother a cat costume that covered him entirely in dark grey fabric; we were all fascinated by his long tail.
And then there was suburbia – Pointe Claire, Quebec – where I learned about “Mat Night”, the night before Halloween. This was a traditional night of pranks by adolescents – the harmless type when we’d put someone’s doormat on their roof, and the more irritating type when we wrote on someone’s window with soap. During those years, for me, the only pleasure was pigging out on the resulting piles of candy Halloween night. Costumes, for me in those days, were a competition in which I could only lose.
I was always in awe of people who could come up with a brilliant idea for a costume year after year – like my sister-in-law Jane, who not only had clever ideas, but could also sew anything – even better than Mom. Again, throughout my life, costume parties have seemed intimidating to me, at best. At worst, well last Saturday night I skipped a dance that required costumes, and instead went out to dinner and dancing in a place where not even a splash of orange appeared.
All of the above probably underlie my hiding in the dark, every Halloween night. Lights off, invisible. And this ‘custom’ of mine is strongly reinforced by my distaste for the increasingly commercial aspects of the event – peoples’ front yards full of plastic goo-gaws which really celebrates what has become a huge anti-creative industry.
I wonder if this trend indicates that my own intimidation by the ‘institution’ of Halloween is actually widespread. Perhaps my neighbours buy the commercial package because they are more like me than I thought. But when our children are small we do the Halloween thing at least in part because we don’t want our neuroses to reflect badly on our little loved ones. If we refuse to participate, we risk traumatizing them.
For awhile there was a trend of organizing a neighbourhood party for the children, as an ‘alternative’, with games and loot. But somehow it evolved into doing both ‘trick or treat’ and parties. So there’s even more buying, more stuff.
And so, for event after event, celebration after celebration, Halloween, Easter, Christmas, we are buying into what I call the “junk model” of celebrating. Supporting the petroleum industry, filling up the earth with crap. Bummer.