Tuesday, August 23, 2011

'tis the Season to Turn Fear Inside Out

Halloween is just around the corner--a little over two months away.  The pattern companies are sending their kiosks to our favorite fabric stores, and yards of sparkly spiderweb fabric is piling up in seasonal displays.  Moms across the US are pondering how they're going to make their little tot's costumes without breaking the bank, and savvy web-surfers are already collecting options for alternative looks that are completely out of the norm.

Halloween is a DIYers dream holiday.  Not only is making one's own costume an adventure, but creating the accoutrements and accessories to make it a complete package is a golden opportunity for stretching one's wings and exploring new things.  There are home decorating alternatives galore, and those with real electronic skill are beginning to ponder what wizardry they can create around their own abodes.

Halloween is also a great time to experiment with those cooking concoctions of the kitchen like the inner mad scientists we've always wanted to be.  Dry ice?  Crackle Pop candy?  Food coloring?  Baking Soda?  Throw them all in for the exploding sugar volcano sure to rock the neighborhood!  Black cat cookies?  Zombie bars?  Hearts of watermelon?  It's time to play in a way you don't get to usually.  Perhaps those Christmas favorites can get contorted and twisted to become Halloween favorites as well.  Sugar Plum Faeries were never so wicked!

In my neighborhood, we go through several bags of candy as our neighbors play host to kids that seem to crawl out of the woodwork to visit our street and Trick or Treat.  My partner sets up a handmade "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!" Peanuts scene in our front yard that he's assembled out of painted plywood.  Each of the figures is in their halloween garb, and stands about 3' tall...  We used to light them, but were told that we couldn't because of city regulations.

But it's interesting how the Halloween holiday has put an emphasis on community where Christmas is about family.  All of the kids that visit our front door in hopes of scoring their next sugar high trust the adults in their world to not hurt them.  Their parents linger nearby, sure, and they may go get their candy x-rayed for safety, but under all of that it's really an exercise in trust.  For a holiday like this to work, parents put themselves on the line and trust their communities to help provide a wonderful experience for the local children.  It takes a village to raise a child?  Well, on Halloween it does.  Ironically, it's the antithesis of fear and fright that Halloween ultimately celebrates.  No scary monsters can douse that spirit of optimism.

Maybe that's why all the activity brings out our adult neighbors to banter and laugh with each other.  I think we're closer as a community on that night than we are normally.  And that's good.  The two guys directly across the street have been here as long as we have and they know all the kids and their parents.  The Latino family next door to them is incredibly friendly.  The divorced single dad living next to us has always been nice, even when his girlfriend's convertible was stolen from right in front of his house the first day he moved in...  The older lady on the other side of us is charming, and the Marine and his wife who live behind us are the typical young married couple in their first home--socializing and hosting parties for their friends into the wee hours of the night...  But we have a nice group of neighbors that look out for one another.  And we all give out candy to the kids that appear from nowhere with their parents in tow, or arrange to provide candy to each other so they can give it out in our stead.

Maybe Halloween is about the costumes and cooking and decorating on one hand, but it's also about community on the other.  Dressing up and having fun is a way of sharing that uplifting feeling with those that live nearby you.  It's a great tool to step away from the computer or TV and rise to the occasion.

I encourage you to explore a DIY Halloween project this year, and use it as a bridge to express community solidarity and togetherness.  Live Life with Relish while you can.

Top photo from aforestfrolic via Flickr.  Creative Commons License.
Middle photo from Makelessnoise via Flickr.  Creative Commons License.
Bottom photo from Stevendepolo via Flickr.  Creative Commons License.


  1. Halloween does come to Singapore in small ways like private parties and the restaurants get the crew to dress up. I wonder why candy is given out? I have a friend who lives in the US and she says you have to guard your home and give out candy or risk getting your home damaged. In Singapore, vandalism is a crime punishable by jail AND caning of 3 to 8 strokes. Yes, the punishment is worse than bashing someone up.

  2. Jane, here's the Wikipedia article on Halloween if you'd like to read it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halloween

    But here's what I know:

    Passing out candy is the result of the term "Trick or Treat". The holiday is actually descended in part from a Christian holy day--All Saint's Day, which is on November 1st. The night before, October 31st, is called "All Hallow's Eve", when wicked spirits are strongest. Centuries ago, people would dress up as devils and demons on that night, drinking heavily and wandering the town getting up to no good. It became a tradition for those costumed people to wander up to neighborhood houses and tell them they'd better give them a "treat" or they'd play a "trick" on them (usually some harmless and stupid little prank that was more trouble than it was worth, like letting their cows out of the barn or coating their windows in layers of soap so they couldn't be looked through or cleaned up easily).

    Then the next day everyone would go to church and ask forgiveness and observe the Holy day and everyone was fine.

    In modern times, this has become a child's holiday for kids to wander from house to house in various costumes and collect candy (the "treats"). They still say "trick or treat", but I bet 9 out of 10 of them don't actually know why.

    Actually pulling pranks on people is mostly for immature teenagers who would actually be charged if they're caught--even here in the US. You're absolutely right, it's vandalism even here, regardless of any historical holiday reasoning that everyone has forgotten. People can indeed get pretty wild on Halloween, and there are a lot of parties where the adults get dressed up, but it's pretty much an excuse to drink and act stupid (if you're not making sure your kids are having a good time pretending to be princesses and superheroes).

    It's a BIG event here in the US--the second largest holiday behind Christmas commercially. It has traditional colors (like Christmas does with it's red, white, and green) which are black and orange, but in recent years purple and green are creeping in as accent colors. Around this time you see a lot of witches and jack o'lanterns (traditionally made to scare away the bad spirits like the gargoyles are supposed to do on cathedrals), scarecrows (because of the harvest season) and more recently zombies. Scary, creepy, and gory are the rule of thumb because of Halloween's religious roots, but it's starting to get a lot milder and funner and sillier.

    Did that help? Does that make any sense? Is there anything remotely similar in your culture? I have to admit, I really don't know that much about holidays outside of the US--I'd love to learn!! : )

  3. Corey, it sounds like a very charming neighborhood that y'all are living in. I have great memories of Halloween as a kid, seems like it has turned into a holiday for adults ... everyone loves costumes!

  4. Perhaps we're trying to recapture that childhood, Susan. I have fond memories of it, too! : )


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