Sunday, October 30, 2011

why I love Halloween.

Halloween has long been my favorite holiday. It’s the one day of the year where you can dress as whatever crazy thing you want to be, and people are expected to reward you with candy.

Ever since I can remember, I have taken Halloween very seriously. 
See how serious I am?
When I was little, I refused to be the same thing for Halloween twice – to this day, I have never repeated a costume for Halloween. There were even years where I had two great costume ideas, so I wore a one for school and one for trick-or-treating.

It should be noted that I have never purchased a ready-made costume. Not once. All of my costumes have been put together from odds and ends that I could find around the house or, as I got older, that I could buy at Goodwill. For the first few years of school, I wished that I could have the “authentic” Cinderella costume from WalMart or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (yes, I wanted to be a Ninja Turtle) outfit from Target. However, it didn’t take me too long to realize that it was way more fun to create your own costume. The year I wanted to be a princess, my mom bought me a can of glitter and an old pair of dress shoes. I got to make my own glittery princess shoes, which included glue, newspaper, and making a complete mess. To a six-year-old, that’s heaven.

While my days of making glitter shoes are gone, I have had more than one triumph with do-it-yourself costumes. My favorite one so far was the year I borrowed my grandmother’s fancy traditional Norwegian outfit and went as a Scandinavian immigrant. Another successful endeavor was when I spray-painted a wig half white and half black, wore a fur coat, and carried a little toy Dalmatian: I was Cruella de Vil. 
I've got the facial expression to match.
I’ve had a few misses, don’t get me wrong: the year I just wore pajamas and went as “late for the bus” was pretty lame.
Super lame.
We Midwesterners also had to be a little more creative with our costumes than the average trick-or-treater. By the time October 31 rolls around, we will most likely have snow on the ground. When you’re outside roaming around, you don’t want to risk frostbite, so you have to be sure your costume lends itself to layering. Did you notice the “winter clothes” trend with my costumes? Wool skirt, fur coat, plush robe: all warm. You either had to ensure that the costume itself was made up of warm items, or you had to make sure you wouldn’t look too funny wearing extra layers underneath your costume. As you might imagine, I was shot down the year I wanted to go as a belly dancer (yes, a belly dancer. No, I don’t know what my problem was).

Decorating for Halloween was always a big to-do at our house. My mom divided up the Halloween decorations into three piles: one for each kid. We each took our piles and got to decide where to place them in the house. Most of the decorations were small, like paper pumpkins and window clings. However, each child got to hang one “big” decoration, too. My choice was always Skip the Skeleton. Skip has been around for as long as I can remember. He (along with Jack the jack o’ lantern) came from my grandmother’s classroom when she taught in the 1950s and 1960s.
What a ham.
Every year, we put him in a place of honor: the front door. Today, even though none of the kids live at home any more, my mom still hangs up Skip the Skeleton every year. And even though none of us live at home, we are all glad to see Skip hanging up whenever we come home in October.

We must also address the fact that trick-or-treating in the country is incredible. For years, we would carpool with the neighbors and drive from house to house. That’s right: there was no walking around and knocking on doors, since the distance between neighbors was usually upwards of a mile. The country folk didn’t get a lot of trick-or-treaters, so they gave out the best treats. One house was famous for giving out 12-packs of pop each year. Many places just left buckets of candy out on their front steps reading “take a few handfuls.” Full-sized candy bars were everywhere. The best part about rural trick-or-treating was the reactions you would get from the people who opened the door. Like I said, not many trick-or-treaters find their way out into the country, so the people who lived way out there were just thrilled to find some costumed kiddies at their door. They’d ooh and ahh while filling our buckets with candy, toys, and coins. Our costuming efforts never went unnoticed out in the country, whereas in town, after the tenth vampire costume, they lose their charm.

Another huge benefit to trick-or-treating in the country was that people still gave out homemade treats. When you went trick-or-treating in town, you were warned against accepting homemade treats because of the risk you’d be biting into a razor blade or rat poison. (Not that the people of Arlington would do that.) However, in the country, you knew everyone. You knew exactly where the Rice Krispie bars came from, and you were glad to have them. My grandma gave out homemade popcorn balls, and they were incredible. There was one lady who made her own taffy every year, and it was delicious. She always had an extra bag for our dad: he loved her taffy, and even though he had his own bag, he’d come looking for ours if we didn’t eat it fast enough.

I didn’t realize how great I had it until the year I decided I wanted to go trick-or-treating in town. I had heard that trick-or-treating in town was wonderful and that the candy was bountiful. How could it not be great? You could go to ten houses in town in the same time it would take you to get to two in the country. What I learned was a classic lesson in quality versus quantity.

All trick-or-treating children are greedy little monsters, and I was no exception. When I knocked on the first door, I held out my pumpkin-shaped pail, expecting a payload of candy. What I got was one piece of Dubble Bubble. One. Piece. I must’ve looked confused, but I said thank you and went on my way. I was trick-or-treating with a friend who lived in town, and I asked her if that’s how it usually went. “Oh no,” she said. “Most houses give you the fun-sized candy bars, at least!”

On we went from house to house, begging for candy. At some houses we were given pennies, other houses handed out saltwater taffy. One house did give out full-size candy bars, and that was the most popular house in town. (Luckily, it was also my trick-or-treating friend’s house, so we got the leftovers.) At the end of the night, we sifted through our bags. We had earned a fairly respectable amount of candy, but compared to what I was used to out in the country, it was nothing. In town, people handed out one fun-size candy bar at a time, which only makes sense: with so many kids coming to your door, even in a town as small as Arlington, you’d run out if you didn’t ration. Meanwhile, in the country, if you didn’t give out big handfuls, you’d be stuck with too much candy at the end of the night. Plus, everyone in the country bought the good candy just in case they did end up with surplus. No one wanted to be left with piles of those little suckers or teeny Almond Joys. No, the country people always had M&Ms, Milky Ways, Kit Kats… everything that you wanted. Trick-or-treating in the country had definitely spoiled me.

Senior in high school: trick-or-treating in my band uniform.

As I grew older, I was forced to outgrow trick-or-treating. I went kicking and screaming – trick-or-treating was the last thing I wanted to give up. Sixth grade was my last year trick-or-treating in the country with the neighbors, and my parents broke the news to me gently. I was crushed, but my parents tried to reassure me by saying that I could be in charge of handing out candy from now on. What a poor consolation prize. I spent the next few Halloweens watching Hocus Pocus and helping my dad hand out candy. I bided my time until I had a driver’s license, and then, sure enough, my friends and I were out trick-or-treating again. The older we got, the better our costumes got. We only went to the houses of people we knew, and the candy was not the goal: we just liked to be able to dress up in goofy costumes and roam around for the night. My trick-or-treating years lasted into my freshman year of college. Yes, I was 18 years old and still trick-or-treating. 

I haven’t been trick-or-treating since, but I have still whole-heartedly participated in Halloween festivities. I wear a costume every year, and I hang up Halloween decorations. I attend midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and wear my special dancing skeleton earrings. I have a glow-in-the-dark skeleton shirt that I wear ever year. (One year, I wore it to my art history class – we spent most of the time in the dark viewing slides, so my glowing shirt was a bit distracting.) Last year, James and I went to the Minnesota Orchestra’s production of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The orchestra played the soundtrack while they screened the movie, and many orchestra members had costumes of their own.
Mother was there.
I truly believe that there are some things you’re never too old for, and Halloween is one of them. Whatever your plans are or whatever your costume is, I hope you have a very happy Halloween! As for me, I haven’t yet decided how I’ll spend the day… but you can be sure I’ll be wearing my dancing skeleton earrings.

Happy Halloween!


  1. You forgot the year you went as Dali's lobster telephone. I thought that was awesome!

  2. Ohhh, I forgot the lobster phone! I had so much fun making that costume. :)