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Late Night: Reflections on Halloween

When I was a little kid in San Antonio in the 1960’s, Halloween was a huge holiday. Scores of kids would dress up in costumes, walk around local neighborhood blocks, and trick or treat, with the emphasis always on the treat part. Just about everybody participated, and those who didn’t were thought of as antisocial tightwads, too cheap to give candy to the kids.

After the kids got home, many adults would pawn them off on babysitters who had to endure sugar-high kids while they went to costumed Halloween parties where alcohol and all kinds of food flowed freely. Many took off work the next day if it was a weekday. Then, in the 1970’s, at least in Texas, things began to change.

Southern Baptist and Pentecostal ministers railed against “The Devil’s Holiday,” fueled by reaction to New Age paganism and movies showing that the Devil might just be real, such as The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Omen. Wild rumors circulated about evil people putting razor blades in apples and poisoning candy. There were a couple of such incidents nationwide, but really few and far between, and always between family members, not between strangers. But much of the media jumped on board, whipping up fear for higher ratings and newspaper sales.

By the time Reagan took office, in my part of the world back then Halloween was essentially dead. Fewer and fewer people displayed any Halloween decorations, and fewer and fewer kids went trick-or-treating. A couple of weeks before Halloween, solemn local newscasters would start warning of the dangers of allowing one’s children to trick-or-treat. It was sad. Years later, I moved to Colorado and found much the same thing going on there and more. Once church in Arvada even went so far as to have a haunted house where they graphically pantomimed abortions and the Devil gleefully waiting in hell to torment women who had them for All Eternity. I understand that eventually Children’s Services got it shut down because they found the Bible-thumping parents who dragged their kids to it every year guilty of psychological child abuse.

Then we moved to northeast Ohio. Halloween’s HUGE here. Weather permitting, hordes of kids flock through the streets trick-or-treating and there are Halloween parties all over the place. It’s great fun, like it should be, IMHO. Maybe it’s Ohioans’ love of celebrating seasons, or of feasting, or both. Maybe it’s something cultural. Whatever, I like it. I have yet to see any fearmongering on local news, or hear many  Christian types railing against Halloween because it’s the Devil’s Holiday, though there is a smidgeon of the latter. Most people here dismiss them as being handicapped by having no sense of fun.

There are haunted cornfields and mazes in the country. There are haunted houses aplenty, complete with costumed folks brandishing chainsaws. There are lots of parties. It’s nice to see what was probably once a Celtic harvest festival with deep religious meaning millennia ago still living on, no matter what form it takes. For that matter, there are real, live pagans and Wiccans here who try to celebrate old Samhain in their best approximation of the ancient rites. There’s ceremony and music and dancing and a lot of fun.

It’s a pity that there are still plenty of people in this country who take after the Puritans and try to ban what is for most just a chance to have some fun, eat some sweets, and maybe swill a bit o’ brew. Funny, you never see them call for a boycott of commercialized Christmas.

Anyway, Happy Halloween! I just finished carving my now traditional Vampire Jack o’ Lantern. Gives the little kids a fun fright, it does. What do you do for Halloween?

Photo by Kristin Brenemen under Creative Commons license

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