Halloween was my second favorite holiday when I was growing up. Halloween meant being able to dress up as your favorite hero (or villain) and not having to worry about people thinking you were nuts. It meant eating as much candy as you could cram into your gullet. It meant being able to walk around at night, in the dark.
A Halloween night in New Jersey was generally quite chilly. Breezes caused the fallen leaves to rustle and fly around. Wood smoke from fireplaces lent a certain taste in the air.
It was a magical night.
It also occurred two days before my birthday. By the time I was over being sick on candy it was time to be sick on cake and ice cream. But that was all right, because I’d have plenty of new stuff to be sick playing with.
Back then, having a costume that was made was bette
r than a
store-bought costume. It showed ingenuity, intelligence, craftiness, and creativity. To buy a costume was a cop-out. Of course, most purchased kids costumes consisted of a mask of some characters face and a plastic smock that announced who you were supposed to be, as if Casper the Friendly Ghost actually had his name printed on his chest.
And it didn’t matter if the costume wasn’t an exact replica of whoever you were supposed to be. Imagination filled in the gaps. That Boba Fett rocket pack was a shoe box and a red “L’eggs” top, but to everyone that knew who Boba Fett was, it was a rocket pack. Kids who had
parents that were really good had a problem. While their costumes were wonders to behold, and everyone would admit that the costume was awesome, there would still be a hint of resentment in there. It could be too good.
Why did it matter? Because in the 1980’s and before, you were allowed to go to school in a costume. You were expected to show up in costume. Complete with mask, if necessary. And everyone had fun, and there would be a parade so that the parents could see how cute everyone looked (God knows why, though; those same kids would be knocking on your door in a few hours anyway).
Now, it seems that if you don’t buy a costume then you suck.
If you try and make one then you’re too poor to buy one. And if your pre-teen daughter doesn’t look like a prostitute then you’ve got problems.
Does it matter, though? To me, it looks like less and less kids go trick-or-treating every year. Even in neighborhoods where kids are abundant, nobody seems to walk around that much. Even to me, an adult who does nothing but pass out candy, Halloween has turned into a disappointment.
So, what happened? I would say fear got the better of everyone. Schools don’t want costumes or masks in school in case someone goes nuts and shoots the place up. We’ve all lived with the Halloween candy scares: apples filled with razor blades, candy corn and other candies injected with drugs. Don’t eat anything home made, like popcorn balls or candied apples because you never know what’s inside of it. Trust only candy that’s still in a big company wrapper. And even then, inspect it for tampering.
But now we’ve reached a whole new level of fear. Kids being abducted, kids shooting other kids, and other horrors that we’re inundated with throughout the years that just builds, and builds, and builds. Maybe our communities aren’t as close knit as they used to be. Do you know your neighbors? Do you see them often? Is the limit of your interaction a half-hearted wave while you’re mowing the lawn?
It’s another piece of Americana that has slowly eroded. Or maybe it never really was that way in the first place. The problem with history is that the more you know, the less different everything seems to be.