Another Halloween over. Masks are put away slowly, while the amassed goodies get put away faster than you can say ‘dental cavity’. Every year the protesting chorus of ‘Americanisation’ rattles around like dungeon chains, as older generations lament the ghost of Halloween past. But has it really changed all that much?
Back in my day, the standard outfit was a black sack and very scary mask of choice. And that was it. No face paint, no accessories, and definitely no non-scary fairies, cowboys, or latest Disney character. Today ‘costumes’ are bought and not created, and aren’t really deemed acceptable unless you look like you’ve just left the Wardrobe Dept at Universal Studios. I can still hear the stinging rebuke of ‘Is that a black sack?’ thrown at my 3 yr old ( by a 7 yr old ) when innocently delivering her to a party last year. She was oblivious of course – didn’t alter the taste of the treats – but I felt like I was learning a HSE lesson (Halloween Sartorial Etiquette).
Then of course there’s the chant. ‘Help the Halloween Party’ (as you shook your noisy plastic bag) was direct and to the point . Saying ‘Trick or Treat’ however, is vaguely threatening to the householder. It’s also pointless, as the invariable receipt of the latter (treat) means the former (trick) is never carried out. We simply all watched too much Simpsons and SouthPark and adopted it sheep-like.
But this year I got a chance to look beyond all those newly adopted differences. My children were always asking – in vain – that I dress up with them. But because I was going to a party later, and because it gets harder to say no every year, I relented. On went my best (home assembled ) witch costume – green hairspray my only purchase. Complete with old rubbery mask – the best kind – off I tromped. With my vampire son by one hand, and little she-devil by the other.
Immediately, I was six years old again. It’s not darker because it’s Halloween, but it sure feels like it. That feeling of trying to see the road, avoid puddles and not trip up, all the while peering though slit holes of eyes. Then there’s that magical anticipation at the doorsteps. The absolute silence as you wait for an answer, when all you can hear is the sound of your own huffy breath inside your mask. That pondering of deciding if/when to ring again, not wanting to annoy your benefactor. Noses press up against glass, trying to see any chink of hopeful light in a dark hallway. Then trying to contain tiny squeals when a switch is flicked, or a handle is turned.
I’m enjoying myself every bit as much as three decades ago. We soon giddily return with the assembled loot, bags all the while being felt and rattled for clues. Contents are instantly poured onto the kitchen floor, sorted and graded. Sweets, chocolate and crisps are of course tops. And although fruit and nuts are still given, they are nonetheless not discarded to the regular fruit bowl but kept in with the haul and will be eaten. This ‘sweetening’ of Halloween is probably the one aspect as a parent I would lament. But it’s so lovely to see that the whole trove is treasured. Hallowed even.
This weekend has brought back to me what a truly wonderful occasion Halloween is in a child’s life. I urge all parents to do the doorsteps next year. And remember that what you wear or what you say can never undo the magic spell that Halloween casts.