Wednesday, October 27, 2010


I've written about Halloween on this blog before--specifically, I wrote about it last October. In that post, I described the uncomfortable feelings I have about the strangers who come to my door trick or treating. I don't expect to feel differently about that this year. I've actually come to dread Halloween to some extent, though it's a rich mixture of magic and nostalgia and dread--perhaps an appropriate mix for this particular holiday.
     At any rate, Halloween has special meaning for me, and as I've mentioned before, my novel begins on Halloween. I can cite multiple reasons for this, and as I have multiple book events next week (see schedule in right-hand column), I will use a deep dive into the meanings of Halloween as a launching pad for at least some of my presentations.
     What I've noticed this year about the weeks leading up to Halloween relates to decorating trends. When I was a girl, although Halloween was a time of great excitement, people didn't decorate their houses at all (at least not that I remember). Of course there was the pumpkin on the porch or in the window, but that was it. Gradually, Halloween has become a marketing phenomenon, and decorations have become more and more extensive and elaborate. But they have also changed in character. A few years back, it was all about those nylonish-inflatable-type decorations. Bright colored and friendly and silly, at least until they collapse in a dirty pile on the front lawns. You know what I mean.
Other items I have seen with regularity are the spider-web things that people stretch over their bushes and so forth.

And there are pretty little lights. And pumpkins, of course: Real, ceramic, and plastic. Plastic or wood gravestones with funny inscriptions (can't think of any at the moment) are also common. Bony legs and arms and feet emerging from the ground. Skeletons hanging from trees. Witches that have crashed into trees.

What I want to say is that this year, I have noticed a decidedly more ghoulish look to the decorations. Large plastic rats. Zombie-like faces emerging from spider webs. Big hairy bats with fangs. A skeletal bride and groom enclosed in a cage and hanging from a tree. Other skeletal creatures with really horrible faces.
     When I mentioned this "trend" to my husband, he said, "Scary things for scary times."

9 comments: said...

Dread has become a normal (another swipe at what is normal re your recent post) feeling about Halloween because these are generally scary times, Halloween or not. We are living in a time when so many people use special days to express their anger. Devil's Night fires set( in Detroit the night before Halloween) were one horrible example. Fortunately, this practice has been stopped for the most part, but the angry among us find other ways to express themselves on Halloween so being afraid to open the door to strangers, especially after the little ones are asleep, has become necessary.

These days with so much excess - how many kinds of Crest toothpaste stare back at you? - if there's money to be made selling ugly/scary decorations or by increasing the price of candy, which is often thrown away for safety issues, companies push this stuff on us through our children and because "everyone else does it." I personally hate the RIP tomb stones. I also question the sense of schlepping a baby in a stroller, wondering how frightening the noise and costumes must be to a little one.

My mother baked - yes, baked - cookies and cooked fudge for treats and my father packaged the goodies into waxed sandwich bags. Some neighbors invited us into their homes where a spread of goodies awaited us. We all went together, the oldest kids on the block watching the younger ones. Parents stayed home to hand out the loot.

We all said "Thank you." Didn't we? When the kids stopped saying Thank You, I stopped giving away treats.

Your husband put it well.

Trick or treat?

Susan Messer said...

I agree that Halloween has changed, but so has everything. My local paper just asked yesterday why it isn't "treat or trick." Which I thought was a good question. And it's true that a lot of kids don't say thank you, but I can't swear that I did either--in the excitement and strangeness of the moment and the night. And I too remember the homemade treats. Those days are long gone.

Jim Poznak said...

Susan, your powers of observation and your ability to express your observations is fabulous.

Susan Messer said...

oh, pshaw.

The Four of Us said...

How perfect. Just today we were talking about existing in a home where we just don't trick or treat (we live in the woods 20 miles out of town)...

...oh we have a big party to go to and costumes are very important but the candy and all the decorations are not a part of it.

Today I asked my oldest about how she feels about not trick or treating. She said, "going door to door, asking strangers for candy, no thanks, that sounds scary..."

Susan Messer said...

Oh, I love your daughter's comment, love having things turned upside-down like that. I've always lived in dense, urban areas, so it's hard to imagine any other than the routine I know. But I do remember, from childhood, something strange about going door to door like that. It was exciting. But also based on all kinds of strange assumptions, and a little edgy, which is why I think I often neglected to say thank you. But thank you to you for stirring up those thoughts.

Margaret P. said...

Your blog makes me think about being scared and how we deal with it.

Last week a Pakistani man I got to know when I was in Pakistan a few years ago was visiting our office, and he brought his wife and cute cute 18-month old daughter with him. Some of us women were playing with the girl and showing her some of the Halloween decorations--a stuffed ghost that made ghostly sounds, a spider that lit up and slid down the side of the bookcase at the clapping of hands. The girl was delighted--not scared at all. And I thought about the world she lives in, with real threats all around her. I had asked her father earlier, over a cup of coffee, how he was dealing with the fearful situation. And he said, "you just can't worry about it, and my family is okay with it too [okay that he works for the Americans]."

We recalled our travels around the country, and I told him I sometime think about the visit we made to a facility in the Northwest Frontier Province, and how uncomfortable with our visit the director of that facility seemed to be, and how five days later there was a suicide bomber at the facility who took his own life and the lives of four others. I certainly don't know how to feel about that--the possibility that our visit, as "infidels," might have spurred the bombing. And for me this trip was one of the highlights of my life! What's wrong with that picture?

Going back to my original statement: I went to the Rally to Restore Sanity hoping it would make me feel safer in this scary world we live in (and I mean here, not halfway around the world), and it did. It made me feel, at least for a few hours, a whole lot safer. Which is a good feeling to nurture, even on the eve of Halloween.

Susan Messer said...

Thanks so much for these thoughts. I'm just sitting here, preparing for my book events next week (what will I say? which excerpts will I read?) and I'm remembering a comment a woman made at one of my readings--that maybe the reason in the first chapter Harry didn't want to make a big deal about the writing on his front window was that this was how he kept himself from giving into his own fears. And when I think about your friends in Pakistan, and your experience there, I think that everyone has fears (or the potential for fear) in their lives and they learn (or try to learn) to manage it, adapt to whatever the local fear-factors are.

I know people who wouldn't feel safe living where I live (on the border with the west side of Chicago). But I, for the most part, have adapted. I don't let fear (of crime) rule my life, though I do sometimes feel afraid, and have to work to manage it.

Anyway, we're definitely not alone in this challenge of controlling our fears, as look how many people showed up at the rally yesterday. I thought Jon Stewart's metaphor of the people squeezing into the Holland Tunnel EVERY SINGLE DAY was sheer genius. Such an affirmation that we know how to do this; it's not comfortable or pleasant; but we know how to cooperate in order to arrive safely at our destinations.

Again, thanks for your great comment.

Patry Francis said...

I agree with Jim's comment about you. So glad that you are okay, and planning another event.