Halloween or Real Life Scares?
by Anna Brentwood
October 25, 2022
What IS nail biting scary to me aren’t ghosts, witches, vampires, pirates or fake bloody gore but the prevalent burn-the-witch-kill-the-monster mob mentality ‘cancel culture’ today that judges, condemns, destroys and separates instead of bringing us together.
Kids. Candy. Dress up. FUN. Halloween is not evil. It is not of the devil or a plot conceived by the dental profession. As one who cherishes history, traditions, and creating good memories, I am a stern believer celebrations and holidays are what you make them.
Wake that inner child, open your mind and heart and always look for something positive at any opportunity to celebrate! As for Halloween, I say exchange your deep dive read-ins and trade them for a pointy or tricorn hat, a cape or sheet, or just wear orange or black. Whatever you do, especially if you have kids or were once one, do something to find the fun and celebrate the day.
Since before October 30, 2001 when the HILLSBORO ARGUS, a twice weekly Oregon newspaper named me, ‘The Halloween Queen’, I always reveled in making the most of any holiday; decorating, dressing up and cooking all kinds of treats but I especially enjoy Halloween.
Sure, many of MY childhood nightmares included pumpkin heads, goblins and witches. The wicked green witch of the west from the Wizard of Oz, with her flying monkeys especially stands out; but fun trumped fear in the West Philadelphia row house neighborhood I grew up in.
While the adults may have suffered through two nights of soap, toilet tissue, or pranks (the older kids) the third night, October 31st, Halloween night was for everyone—the ultimate block-party-play-date. We kids dressed up for school and at night the festivities continued as sidewalks filled with laughter and multitudes of children going door to door to fill their bags with candy and collect pennies for UNICEF, a popular charity back then. My own father made the newspapers in Philly back in 1963 when he made a talking scarecrow and thrilled trick or treaters walking by, unusual in that day.
Halloween or All Hallows Eve originated with the ancient Celtics and is based on natural phenomena. It acknowledged the beginning of the dark, cold winter, often associated with death because it was the end of the light, warm summer and harvest season. Samhain, pronounced Sah-win, was celebrated with cheerful festivities; gatherings, bonfires, costumes, food and drink. By the 8th and 9th centuries Christianity was spreading and the Pope got in on the action by making November 2nd, All Saints Day or All Souls Day to honor saints and those who died. By the 19th century America, different European ethnic groups and Native Americans meshed their harvest end festivities.
By the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween had become a secular but community centered holiday, with parades and town-wide Halloween parties, all tied back to acknowledging the end of one season and the beginning of another. High numbers of baby boomer parents, from the 1940s to the 1970’s, took it to another level should mischief be perpetrated on those dark-hearted party poopers who didn’t turn on lights, share treats, or participate. They moved celebrations from town civic centers into classrooms and homes.
Who hasn’t heard to evade bad luck one must avoid crossing paths with a black cat, a superstition not based on race but with roots in the Middle Ages when people believed in witches turning themselves into cats. Does anyone you know studiously avoid breaking mirrors, stepping on cracks in the road, or spilling salt? Do you cringe at the idea of walking under a ladder? My point is superstitions are superstitions and getting dressed up to go trick-or-treating or joining in the fun of handing out candy to children is a relatively innocuous way for an entire community to come together and get to know one another. Whether you believe the veil between the living and dead thins when the seasons change, dressing up to scare the scary and celebrating Fall’s transitions in nature, life and death, today’s version is composed of many different beliefs and customs with a little commercialization thrown into the mix.
Fall harkens in months of pumpkin treats to the tune of 1.31 billion pounds of pumpkin produced by the states of Illinois, California, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan. There are all kinds of haunted houses, pumpkin patches, pop up prop and costume shops, and corn mazes. Macabre Halloween movies and scary music videos have a long history of being box office hits. Americans spend an estimated $8 billion annually on Halloween, making it the country’s second largest commercial holiday after Christmas. That includes $490 million spent on costumes for their pets.
Scary movies aren’t my thing but my children and grandchildren annually raised prop severed heads, hands, monsters, skeletons, ghosts and candy eyeballs. They don’t fear the holiday, rather they adore it. However, in recent years, while we all have the individual right of choice not to participate, it saddens me to see how some churches have disparaged the holiday based on misplaced fears. Many schools have begun to disregard it all together. While others have chosen to institute completely non-denomination new holidays, such as “Fall Festival” or “Hat Day.”
Our country is a melting pot of individual cultures and beautiful ideas. Why not educate rather than desecrate? Blend, mend but not end? And really, from a child’s perspective, what’s not to love?
Okay, most of us watch sugar intake for them and us and, depending on geography, Halloween night can be windy, rainy and cold. I admit costuming and decorating is work, but participating makes for great memories and kids don’t care. They just want to have fun.
*An interesting aside or historical note; L. A. Long, father of Judge Donald E. Long and a relation of my husband, was editor of the Argus from its inception in 1894 to 1907 and again from 1909 to 1923. The Argus, a popular local newspaper closed for good in 2017.
Anna Brentwood writes historical fiction. She is inspired to write about interesting characters whose lives take them on journeys we can all enjoy and perhaps learn something along the way. This former suburban Philly and California wife, mother, doting nany of three lives in one of Oregon’s wild, enchanted forests in a log home that includes a sassy collection of Flapper memorabilia, her ex-Navy Seal hubby, a menagerie of creatures that once included wolves, coyotes and a hawk. Currently they harbor two very pampered French bulldogs, one ornery parrot and outside a variety of birds, squirrels and chipmunks. You can learn more about Anna at her website.