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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Halloween For the Purist Part One: Childhood

In the minds of children, three holidays usually ring out as the most fun. Easter, Christmas, and Halloween. It’s no surprise that all three involved getting some kind of treat whether it be presents or candy. In fact, all three have the distinction of sharing a duality with religious iconography. Santa Claus with Jesus Christ, The Easter Bunny with, again, Jesus Christ, and Halloween with the Zombie Jesus Christ….I’m kidding, of course. That’s because Halloween has more connections with Pagan themes than Christianity, unless of course you think of Halloween as being a Satanic holiday. If that’s the case you probably think kids who read or watch Harry Potter will turn into a witch and actually do magic. Face it, Halloween is the Celtic New Year’s Eve. All this demonic worship and references to the occult were added later. Anybody who chooses to look at Halloween as a reason to worship Satan is about as on the mark as people who believe that evil aliens live in volcanoes and for a price can make you famous actor. Jumping on couches is optional.

So, being a Halloween purist, I choose to look at the more modernized version of Halloween, stripped of any religious connotations and boiled down to the basic desire to have fun and be creative from the perspective of childhood and adulthood. To that end, I think if you are going to at least get involved with the holiday and expect others to take you seriously, you need to do at least some of the work.

It’s simple. As a kid, you dress up and go trick or treating, collecting as much candy as you can. You take a lot of time and effort to come up with the right costume. You are respectful to those you visit and you thank them for their treat. As an adult, you do your part to help make the experience for little ones enjoyable and you make sure they understand all the rules.

Growing up, I took Halloween seriously. Now, my mother told me of how her hometown would have trick or treating that would last an entire week. That would have been cool for a kid, and expensive for an adult. What I find sad is that nowadays, some kids are forced to go trick or treating during daylight hours and sometimes on a different day than Halloween. And additionally, a lot kids don’t even put in the effort to come up with a good costume and just walk around a camouflage shirt or football jersey and call it a costumer. They grab a pillowcase and go out with the sort of enthusiasm that makes you think that it really is Night of the Living Dead out there.

I remember the good old days of the early 80s. Your parents would go out and buy you that kiddie costume that consisted of an vinyl outfit and a plastic mask. It was the kind of mask that forced you to make sure you brushed your teeth beforehand because you’d be subject to your own breath for the next few hours, not to mention profusely sweating underneath that plastic shield held together with an elastic band. Visibility was a matter of perspective. If you tried to adjust your mask to see better, you risked cutting your eyes on the jagged holes punched into the mask or massive welts from the snapping of the elastic on your skin.

As I got a little older, costumes became a little more inventive. One year, I scrounged around our house and came up with enough supplies to pull off a fully wrapped up patient. Some old crutches, hospital gown, and a pair of long johns made up the bulk of the costume while bandages around my arms and head completed the look. It also served as a great costume for our grade school’s party. After we would get dressed up, the teacher would try to guess who we were as we sat in different seats. I still don’t know how she was able to easily tell it was me under those bandages. In any case the coolest of all costumes was in fourth grade.

In June of 1984, Ghostbusters had become a HUGE hit at the box office. By October, even at the age of nine I knew the cultural impact of the movie on the Halloween holiday. Come hell or high water, I was going to be a Ghostbuster. I don’t recall if costumes in retail stores had caught up to Pop Culture at this point, so I have no idea if there was already a version being sold to the public. In any case, I knew I could pull it off with what I had around me. As always, I could come up with grand schemes, but the nine year old mind had no way of understanding the mechanics of actually executing such plans. I called on the two smartest people I knew, my dad and my brother, for help.

We took an old gray snow suit and established it as the jumpsuit. I drew the logo of the ghost with a line through it and a name tag to be taped on the pocket area. My two genius engineers constructed the proton pack by taking an old black back pack and putting a cardboard box inside to square it up. Using a six volt flashlight and a discarded gun stock, with no barrel or trigger, they created the particle thrower. Taking the mirrored cone from the flashlight and the bulb they built a lighted front end of the gun and wired it to light up with a trigger on the gun stock. The wire was then run through an old corrugated vacuum hose to a battery inside the backpack. In all, it was a crudely designed costume but it was the coolest thing I’d ever wore and made me an instant hit during our school party. Someone had the 45 of the Ray Parker Jr. movie theme in class and played it as I did the dance from the end of the video, complete with a fake sliming that had me end up flat on my back. From the outside observer, I probably looked like the biggest dork on Earth but, in my mind, it was hippest thing I ever did in my life. Looking back, if someone were to have attempted that same costume, designed the same way, they would probably have been sent to the principal’s office for brandishing a weapon.

Fourth grade was the pinnacle of Halloween for me, as a kid. As adolescence set in, I became too old for trick or treating, but too young for wild Halloween parties. Soon, the problems of the world reared their ugly head into our lives. Kids from my generation were warned by McGruff the crime dog to not talk to strangers and long before Amber Alerts we were well aware of the creepy men in the trucks offering candy. I distinctly remember watching Adam on television and sat in disbelief as they found the body of little Adam Walsh. It was beyond the mind of an eight year old to comprehend that children could be killed. That was my first taste of mortality outside the passing of my grandfather. Still, that was not going to deter a kid on Halloween. We trick or treat no matter what. We are just careful and follow the rules. But when I turned 10 and had moved into a semi rural area outside of our town proper, trick or treating hours was moved to a Sunday afternoon between 2 PM and 4 PM.

That slight was a blaspheme to the heart of the Halloween Purist. I can understand with the danger of abductions and the amount of traffic that would zip along the infrequently monitored roads of my area, you had to be safe and what better way to be safe was during the day. However, the frequency of trick or treaters, along with the bad timing reduced the amount of visitors so much that my parents stopped handing out treats. In my last attempt at childhood, a friend and I wore makeshift costumes and went trick or treating in the middle of the afternoon which made some people scratch their heads. After all, when two thirteen year olds show up on your doorstep asking for candy, you think they are jackasses. But soon, adulthood would come into play and the holiday became fun again for the Halloween Purist. See you in Part Two.

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