Halloween Haters

Image result for stranger thingsAre you a Halloween hater? A few years ago, I was surprised when one of my Australian colleagues was dissing on Halloween! His complaints were somewhat standard: “The kids don’t need all that sugar!,” “It’s American colonialist propaganda!,” “It’s not safe for the kids to go wandering the neighborhoods hopped up on sugar!,” “It’s a school night!” Everything he hated about Halloween is what I love about it. Moreover, Halloween is both responsible parenting and the best kind of American colonialism.

This weekend many of us gathered together, independently in the sanctity of our own homes, for a new American ritual: the Netflix binge. We watched, separately and yet jointly, all 9 episodes of season 2 of Stranger Things. This season opened with the kids of Hawkins preparing for that most American of holidays: Halloween. They did the things we all did at middle school age: discussed the various merits of different candy bars, opined over dressing up at school (being on that cusp between childhood and teenagerdom sucks), and fretted over the details of their incredibly professional-looking Ghostbusters costumes. All while dealing with the palpable, ominous strangeness in the town around them. This is what Halloween is all about: the fun, superficial “tricks” suitable for kids, and the true danger and evil lurking beneath the veneer of polite society.

Fun Size Evil

“During the day I don’t believe in ghosts. At night I’m a little more open minded.”

Most kids are introduced to the concept of death when a pet dies or an aging relative, but for those who still feel too safe, too immortal, Halloween is a chance to open the imagination to the dangers of mortality: witches (stranger danger!), cauldrons (or neighbors poisoning your candy), black cats (demonic familiars).

Image result for bells in graveyardsWhen he was 8 or 9 years old, my son was assigned to write an essay at school about vampires. His research had his tiny mind all freaked out about vampires coming into his room to bite his neck while he was sleeping. I went into his room to talk to him, and he blurted out how scared he was of vampires. I pointed out that vampires aren’t real and explained that vampires had a really interesting origin story, that a few hundred years ago, people couldn’t always tell if someone was dead or not, so they accidentally buried people who were still alive. Then, when those people realized they were in a coffin underground, they would claw their way out of the ground and go back to the village, but often they weren’t quite right in the head anymore. People found this scary, so that’s one reason they installed bells in some graveyards that had a string into the coffin so anyone who was accidentally buried could ring the bell and be dug back up.

He didn’t actually find that comforting. Weird.

Colonialism

My Aussie colleague was right to consider “American” Halloween a byproduct of colonialism. The most insidious method of infiltrating other unsuspecting countries we have these days is Hollywood. In Australia, neighborhood trick-or-treating originated with the popular movie ET.

I was also surprised at just how popular Halloween was in Singapore. There, it’s not the kid-friendly treats at the doors that have caught on, although in our mostly ex-pat building, we did have a few kids come by, dressed mostly in logo tee shirts and shorts rather than actual costumes. Singapore loves the gory aspect of Halloween, mainstreaming horror movies and slasher-themed costumes. Halloween is an excuse to go clubbing drenched in fake blood rather than taking kids around to neighbors’ apartments begging for candy. Countries have their priorities, after all.

Like most American colonialism, Halloween originated in European traditions that were quaint yet weird and scary that we made kid-friendly and fun instead. We marketed it for mass consumption. In short, there are much more objectionable American traditions we could be exporting. Australia should be thanking us that this is the one that caught on.

Candy

It’s interesting that my colleague hated on Halloween due to giving candy to kids. Don’t kids all want candy all the time? It has to be good that we indulge them to the point of vomiting just once a year, a corn-syrup version of Rumspringa that helps them keep their cravings in check year round. There’s nothing like a little hair of the dog that bit you to get you back on the straight and narrow. Plus, he’s from Australia which surpassed the US of A for childhood obesity a few years ago. Physician, heal thyself. Thanks, Obama! (Michelle, that is.)

The consumption of candy is the number one reason to love Halloween in my book. Halloween divides the houses that are generous (full size candy bars!) from those that are trying to prove a point (toothbrushes? really? plastic spider rings?) or just giving out gross stuff nobody really wants (taffy people, you know who you are). There’s a Robin Hood element to the holiday, as people deliberately drive to “rich” houses to plunder their treats, avoiding the more humble neighborhoods. This is one reason in my corporate life we always did “reverse trick or treating,” taking treats around to the employees.

When it comes to Halloween night, there’s a true art to predicting just the right amount of candy. The right amount means that you have enough for all the trick-or-treaters without appearing stingy, plus enough to eat as much as you want of what’s left over. Last year we had just run out, and I was starting to think about breaking open some herbal tea bags when my husband went out and bought two more bags of candy, so of course we had no more kids come after that.

Halloween is also a way to teach your kids to hone their own “giving” skills. My kids always wanted to be the ones handing out treats when they were done with their own neighborhood walk, but we had to rein them in when we saw them grabbing two giant handfuls of candy for each kid! I explained to them that you need to make sure you have enough for all the kids who come by, and you also need to reserve the good candies for yourself, not give them out to toddlers who probably won’t appreciate them anyway. Plus, those parents are going to eat the good stuff in those cases, and they can buy their own damn Twix. Use your heads, kids.

And Halloween candy is the first–and perhaps only–experience most American kids get with the barter system, trading your unwanted candy (Snickers, Baby Ruth) for underappreciated upgrades (Almond Joys, Take 5, Good n Plenties). Best of all, you can exploit the naivete of your younger siblings and foist your undesirable candies on them while taking the best things for yourself. (This also works for parents of very young children).

Costumes

“Clothes make a statements. Costumes tell a story.” Mason Cooley

Image result for slutty halloween costumeThe best thing about Halloween is that you get to choose your identity, whatever you want. You can be a slutty nurse, a slutty astronaut, or a slutty Spongebob Squarepants. The possibilities are limitless! You can also do clever costumes like couples or team costumes, costumes that are puns, or really really obscure pop culture references that will confuse everyone.[1] My son wore a costume a couple years ago that we thought was a downlow Hugh Hefner (white crew socks, a short satin kimono, and sneakers), but was apparently some Manga thing. This is the part where he would shake his head and say, “Mom. Manga? Really? No, just no,” because I probably used the wrong term for whatever that costume was. In fairness, nobody else knew who he was either, which delighted him no end, and prep time was minimal. My best low-prep costume was when I came as a communist to the ward trunk or treat.

Even better, you get to dress up at work if you are so inclined, unless you have to fire someone that day like I had to one year. As bad as it is to be fired, I figured it had to be worse to be fired by someone dressed like Petunia Pig. Or maybe that would have been easier. It’s a crap shoot. Instead, all day everyone kept asking why I didn’t dress up, which I couldn’t say, and then when I did fire the employee for falsifying her time card, it was especially bad because she was dressed like a “housewife,” with curlers in her hair, a mud mask on her face, and big fuzzy slippers and bathrobe. What’s worse, she had to wait for her ride to come get her which took a while.  Awkward.

Another Halloween when I was at that same call center company, I was unpacking my bag in the morning when a man walked into my office. This wasn’t an unusual occurrence because my office had a glass wall (we called it the fish bowl because everyone stared at me all day), and you had to pass it to get to the training room, so some of the trainees would just walk in thinking the glass was an open invitation to come chat (it wasn’t–I didn’t even work in the training department). I was wearing my Hester Prynne costume (Why do you have an A on your dress? Do you like the Oakland A’s?), and this gentleman who had come in was talking in a most familiar way that was really raising my hackles.

“I don’t mean to be rude (not technically true), but who are you?” I asked, interrupting his auto-witter.

“Shut up,” he said.

“Excuse me?” I asked, my voice rising. Was I going to have to call security?

“Shut up, Ang. You know who I am.”

The voice sounded a little familiar, but this unfortunate looking person really wasn’t ringing any bells. I mean, who dresses like that? He had double knit plaid slacks that were frankly too short and pulled up much too high. His tie was too short. He had tape around the middle of his thick eyeglasses. No wait, it was a bandaid, not tape–even worse. His hair was greasy and parted in the middle. I mean, really, I didn’t know anyone like that. Then it dawned on me that this was my colleague Dave whom I had lunch with pretty much every day. It’s a testament to some of the strange characters who attended training that I didn’t immediately see that what he was wearing was a costume.

Image result for jim office daveThe ward trunk or treat has also been an interesting place to see what costumes people come up with. One of the counselors in our bishopric several years ago came as Hannah Montana (pre-Miley Cyrus). This made me think he wasn’t aware of the prohibition on costumes that involve cross-dressing that caused one bishop in Sandy, Utah to encourage parents to be sure their toddlers wore gender-appropriate costumes, just to be on the safe side lest any pre-schoolers switch teams as a result of a ward-sponsored party. This year my daughter went to a stake dance dressed as Jim from The Office dressed as Dave (his low-key costume). It’s pretty sexist that nobody freaks out when a girl dresses as a man, but if a man dresses as a girl, that’s crossing a line. It’s similar to why it’s OK to be a tomboy but not a sissy, because being a girl is a downgrade for a boy, but being a boy is an upgrade for a girl. But in my daughter’s case, nobody cared and most people were just confused about why her name was Dave. The guy at the fro-yo shop we went to before the dance immediately recognized her costume and gave her mad props. At this point my daughter would say, “Mad props, mom? No, just no. Nobody says that.” Which brings us to another great feature of Halloween: embarrassing our kids.

  • What was your favorite misunderstood Halloween costume?
  • What treat do you plan to steal from your kids this year?
  • Are you a Halloween hater?

Discuss.

 

 

Comments

  1. Michinita says:

    Wait, how did you dress up as a communist?

  2. Ah, I’m glad you asked. I had a very bland looking military style jacket, a plain shirt, and a cap I bought in China with the red star. Then I printed out a bunch of buttons with pictures of Chairman Mao on them and pinned them to the jacket.

  3. My oldest (now 8) loves entirely obscure characters. A few years ago he insisted on going as “Den,” a very obscure diesel train character in the Thomas the Train universe. The next year he went as “Azumarill,” an obscure Pokemon. This year he opted for the less obscure “Squirtle” Pokemon, so there’s a chance someone out there might recognize the costume.

  4. When I was a kid I made my own M&M costume. But I purposely glued the M on upside down, because it’s not like they come our of the bag perfectly, right? It would have been better a great costume if I’d just done the dang M.

  5. My grandson is a vampire pickle this year. Bite that!

  6. OregonMum says:

    I lived out in the sticks so I never trick or treated growing up and am now living the dream vicariously through my sons. Who are not yet wise enough to know that when mom is doling out the candy over the following weeks, somehow all the peanut butter cups and kit kats have disappeared. I love the community aspect of it. All the neighbors are out, the kids run amok in a giant herd, and we adults chat as we trail behind our exuberant offspring.

  7. EnglishTeacher says:

    My now-husband and I went as Jim and Pam for a Halloween party a few years ago when we were first dating. We both spent no money on either of our costumes, but we were immediately recognizable to most millennials at the party, since I have natural Pam Season 2 hair, and my husband grew his hair out to be the same mop shape that Jim sports in the early days of The Office. More recently, we went as Newt Scamander and Tina Goldstein to a party this past weekend. Those who had seen Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them recognized us immediately, and several people commented on how my husband is a dead ringer for Eddie Redmayne (SPOILER: I knew this already, and seized my moment to persuade him to go as Newt months ago). Many others, however, didn’t know who we were; I was somewhat surprised by this, given that the Harry Potter universe is so culturally well-known and widespread.

    We have no children, so I’ll probably just grade and snack throughout the evening on Halloween candy I buy every year, despite the fact we never get trick or treaters.

    My fondness for Halloween waxes and wanes year by year. Sometimes fall rolls around and I revel in it, with lots of scary movie watching and costume planning leading up to the day, and other years it comes and goes with nary a blip on my radar. This year I definitely got into it, and had good fun in the process.

  8. Aussie Mormon says:

    The only thing that really turns me off the halloween thing is how commercialised it is (though Easter and Christmas have gone the same way). Despite no longer being a little fella, I still enjoy dressing up for halloween things (parties etc), but never go trick or treating because:
    1)I have no children (of my own, or able to be borrowed), and it’d look a bit strange a grown man dressing up as a ninja turtle knocking on people’s door asking for treats;
    2)you pretty much have to pre-organise people to be ready with halloween treats for it to work.
    Plus if I want treats I can just go to the shop and buy them myself.

    In regards to movies/shows set at halloween, I always enjoy this scene from the Adam Sandler movie “Big Daddy” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gW6-hsJLP-s

    As far as the colonial comments go, I only worry about that on July 4 :P https://i.imgflip.com/16u9g5.jpg

  9. never forget says:

    I loved Halloween as a kid and teenager because it used to mean the best horror movies would be on Sci–Fi, TNT, USA, TCM, etc for a week before and on Halloween night itself. I would always volunteer to stay home from the age of 12 on so I could give the candy out to kids coming by, and my parents would take my younger siblings out. Binging on candy never had that much appeal to me. All four Phantasm movies? Check! All the the Omen movies? Sure thing! Binging on death, gore, other dimensions, hate, the dark side of humanity, and scaring the stuffing out of myself did.

    That appeal has waned a bit over the years, especially since my wife won’t watch stuff like this with me. Also I see in these movies now a reflection of many of the situations that I find myself or encounter with my work in law enforcement in the states and overseas. The most direct appeal of Saw IV and its kind goes out the door when you have have to work the scene among the bodies after a car bombing or determine if a gunshot to someone’s head is self inflicted.

    On the other hand, a well crafted suspenseful story, including elements of horror or the unknown is just about a great a thing as there is in the world. Anyone who hasn’t already binged on Stranger Things season 2 has been marked as an unbeliever and will be destroyed.

  10. Not a Cougar says:

    One “amen” on the fun colonial aspect of Halloween. I served a mission in the Philippines and spent my first Halloween in the province of Aklan (where the resort island of Boracay is). I got to talking with one of the original members there, and she explained that the first missionaries assigned specifically to that area (Kalibo, the largest city in the province) arrived about 1969 (or thereabouts – happy to be corrected on the dating if someone knows better) and helped stage the first branch Halloween party which slowly but surely spread to the rest of the city and, later, to the rest of the island. I’m sure Kalibo wasn’t the first place in the Philippines to celebrate Halloween since there were huge number of U.S. servicemembers and their families in Subic Bay and Clark AB for many decades, but it was really cool to see that a couple of (probably) homesick Mormon missionaries passed on a really fun tradition to the people they served.

  11. Halloween haters are bad, terrible, mean and stingy people.

  12. I think in 20 years there will only be two US holidays left, Halloween and Martin Luther King day.

    Christmas? Too religious. Columbus Day? It’s already gone. Easter? See Christmas. 4th of July? No one who is someone wants to make America great or even remember falsely when it was. Thanksgiving? Cultural appropriation. Etc, etc, etc.

    But Halloween? We all die, it’s not religious, something we can all embrace. And MLK day? I’m not touching that one.

  13. We once had an official YSA-sponsored Halloween party, and they were VERY CLEAR that no cross dressing was allowed. So naturally, a high councillor’s wife came dressed as Mario. Because I have no chill, I called her out. Everybody laughed until they saw I was serious about the double standard, and then it got a little awkward. Seriously, why can’t they just say, “Hey, no dudes in drag, please,” and call it good?

  14. A few years ago, I dressed up as Professor Quirrell. My young son was Harry Potter (the rest of the family didn’t follow the HP theme). I basically just had an old university robe and wrapped a rolled up blanket around my head to create his turban. Most of the older people in my neighborhood didn’t know who I was as I went around with the kids trick or treating. One aging professor (who used to be our bishop) laughed and said, “oh, you’re a raghead!” No, not an offensive Arabic stereotype. All the kids knew who I was. At one point, two kids who were dressed up as Voldemort and Tom Riddle saw me and were very excited. They pulled out their wands and thought it was the funniest thing ever when I pulled out mine and struck a wizards duel pose. It was fun with 3 different incarnations of the dark lord pointing wands at each other in the dark street on All Hallow’s Eve.

  15. I dressed up as Spaghetti in the second grade.

    Halloween is everything to me, it represents childhood and celebrates the taboo. Awesome read!

  16. Kevin Barney says:

    Fun post. Count me as on team Loves Halloween. When I was a boy we went out unchaperoned for miles and miles filling pillow cases full of candy (that was before the supposed razor blades in apples reports that made parents pay more attention).

    A trunk or treat thing at a church party is fine, but I hope Mormon parents do that in addition to and not in lieu of neighborhood trick or treating. My kids are grown, but I’m with Oregon Mom, taking the kids trick or treating was the best, probably the most interaction I had with my neighbors all year.

  17. Jack Hughes says:

    My ward did not have a trunk-or-treat this year. We did, however, have a ward Fall festival/chili cook-off last week, which was nice, but completely bereft of anything Halloween, with the possible exception of a few uncarved pumpkins among the bales of hay lining the cultural hall. A handful of children wore costumes, but they were the exception and not the rule.

    This, and the fact that my daughter’s elementary school has a blanket prohibition on Halloween costumes, leads me to believe that we are in the beginning stages of an all-out War on Halloween. Soon enough, we won’t even be able to say “Happy Halloween” in our workplaces. Our civil liberties are eroding right before our eyes.

  18. This year I went as Creedence Lenore Guilgud, the creepy lady from Troll 2. Nobody knew who I was. If I resurrect the costume again I’ll add more green drool, but I thought the popcorn was a good touch.

  19. Living in LA, Halloween remains the one day a year I’m allowed to engage my neighbors. And so I say, God bless it.

  20. I’m not a Halloween hater, and have always loved it, but just this year, I think I’ve really grown tired of it. I think it has to do with 29 years in the elementary classroom. I’m kind of over it, but I’m sure I’ll get excited about it again at some point. Meanwhile, while I can’t say I’ve had a misunderstood Halloween costume, we dress up at school about once a month for spirit days and I had to dress as a TV character. I dressed as Amy Farrah Fowler from the Big Bang Theory, and I had no less than 5 people ask me why I hadn’t dressed up that day (because I always love to dress up). And I was like, “Don’t you see I’m wearing a barrette?!?!” (This is because I evidently dress exactly like her in real life all the time, and that is soooooo sad.)

  21. Aussie Mormon says:

    My previous attempt at this comment seems to be stuck in moderation due to URLs, so here it is without them.
    ——
    The only thing that really turns me off the halloween thing is how commercialised it is (though Easter and Christmas have gone the same way). Despite no longer being a little fella, I still enjoy dressing up for halloween things (parties etc), but never go trick or treating because:
    1)I have no children (of my own, or able to be borrowed), and it’d look a bit strange a grown man dressing up as a ninja turtle knocking on people’s door asking for treats;
    2)you pretty much have to pre-organise people to be ready with halloween treats for it to work.
    Plus if I want treats I can just go to the shop and buy them myself.

    In regards to movies/shows set at halloween, I always enjoy the trick-or-treating scene in Big Daddy.

    As far as the colonial comments go, I only worry about that on July 4 :P (do an image search for “happy treason day”)

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