Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Halloween Traditions and Playfulness

Hundreds of years ago, Europeans believed that ghosts returned to the earthly world on Halloween night. Anyone who had to leave their house after dark donned a mask, hoping the spirits would mistake them for one of their own. To prevent the ghouls from entering their homes, people set bowls of food outside their doors.

I’ve almost finished putting away the Halloween stuff, which is no small feat considering that we have eight bins of decorations and lights, not to mention all of the oversized skeletons, tombstones, witches, etc. It’s a lot of work to decorate and undecorate every year, but I have so much fun, it’s worth it.

Our front yard provides the perfect spooky setting. We have a 10’ concrete retaining wall in front with a few ominous cracks caused by the shifting ground beneath us. Wrought iron fencing tops the wall along the street and up the first stairwell. Mature palm trees grow throughout the yard, with the fronds of the elephant palm hanging above the lower stairs. At the top is a landing, then another set of stairs leading up to our front porch.

From the street, you can see fake spider webs on the concrete wall, plus orange and purple lights that outline the wrought iron, porch railing and front of the house. As the trick-or-treaters open the iron gate—which creaks, naturally—and walk up the steps, they’re greeted with a graveyard on one side and a lit pumpkin patch on the other. On the porch is another scene involving a skeleton, rats, a giant bat and a disembodied head that talks to anyone who gets close enough to it. The kids are so engrossed in the decorations that they forget they’ve just walked up two flights of steps.

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed hearing the little gremlins’ comments as they enter our haunted homestead. One of my favorites was a boy about five or six who told me that he didn’t think the yard was as spooky as it had been the last year. I feigned surprise that he wasn’t scared, then caught his father’s eye and shared a smile. Neither of us pointed out that he was a year older and prepared for what had obviously given him a fright the year before.

My all-time favorite comment, though, came from a little girl about three years old. After receiving her candy, her mother prompted with, “What do you say?” to which the little one replied, “I wanna eat ‘dis!” Now that’s genuine gratitude, child-style.

As much as I enjoy the trick-or-treaters, I have even more fun at the adult party, which we usually throw the weekend before. There are a core of about 30 of us who attend every year, though some years bring in even bigger crowds.

While we make it clear that costumes are optional, I love that the vast majority of my friends get into the spirit of the day and dress up. Costumes range from traditional to clever to topical—both balloon boy and Octomom were here this year.

Often the costumes lead to impromptu live theater. When three escaped convicts appeared at this year’s party, things began to disappear, including several of Octomom’s babies. (Don’t worry, the one in the freezer was rescued before any permanent damage was done.) Shakespeare might have had my friends in mind when he penned the line, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

Providing the setting for friends to allow their playful spirits to emerge is what makes the party preparations worthwhile. We may not don our masks and capes and wigs for the weeks leading up to Halloween like the young ones do, but we have fun memories and laughs to enjoy for weeks, months, sometimes years later.

That seems much better than a bowl of food for keeping unpleasant and fearful forces from entering our lives.


  1. I loved the vivid description in this post. Your guided tour opened the creaking door to my own childhood memories while concurrently allowing me to delight in your young visitors. Your prose invited us all to the party. This one belongs in the Sunday Living section.

  2. Fun, fun piece... as enjoyable as the party was.