Well folks, it’s that beloved time of year again, where Pumpkin Spice everything is everywhere you go and shop. Where some places of the country actually experience a fall season, while others of us long for the days that leaves might change colors for a few days before dying and falling off, and temps of highs in the 70s seem like cold fronts. Well, I guess in these parts, highs in the 70s ARE actually cold fronts. We hope for cool weather for Trick-or-Treating, so that nobody has to sweat inside of their adorable little costumes. And we look forward to upcoming holidays, hoodies, hot drinks, and warm fuzzies.
So here we are, at the end of October, on the kickoff of the fall/winter trio of holiday greatness – Halloween! Earlier this week, as I read a Huff Post piece about Halloween in the 1970s versus now, it reminded me of many a great Halloween of yesteryear. So I thought that I would write my own version of how Halloween has evolved over the years, and how way different it is now.
1976 (Six years old – first grade): While I don’t remember too many of my childhood costumes, and I don’t remember if we wore them to school or not, I DO remember that it was called Halloween, it was celebrated as a fun holiday, we DID have parties at school (with homemade baked goods even!) complete with a carnival AND a haunted house in the choir room. It scared the bejeezus out of us!! They had pumpkin carving/decorating contests, and in third grade, my brother and I won Grand Prize and made the front page of the local newspaper!
We were not, however, ever allowed to have costumes that were witches/warlocks, devils, skeletons, or anything that my mother remotely considered to be “evil.” We were lucky to be allowed to Trick-or-Treat, because this was “the devil’s holiday,” and mom was just sure that somehow Satan was going to get to us through our candy, I guess. I asked mom if she took pictures of us on Halloween, and if so, where are they; but she couldn’t recall having any, even though she was sure that she took some because we were just “so darn cute in our little costumes.”
I remember that we would come home from school and count the hours until we could go Trick-or-Treating with our friends. Too excited to eat dinner really, we danced around in our costumes waiting for night to fall; our giant plastic jack o’ lanterns waiting by the door. As soon as we saw people on the sidewalks and porch lights aglow, we were GONE! Sometimes my dad would walk with us, but as we got older, we either went by ourselves or with a group of friends. No flashlights, we were led simply by the street lights. People would decorate their homes with the specific purpose to scare us little kids, and they did it well. They had makeshift haunted housed in their garages for the kids of their community, and we went in, unafraid and without fear of abduction. We accepted any and every candy, popcorn ball, apple, orange, or pixie stic – however, we didn’t so much as sample a piece of any of it while out. Our costumes, in the younger years, were typically store-bought plastic smocks that were hot as hell (unless, of course, it was cold that year, and then we attempted to bundle up UNDER our plastic smocks and looked utterly ridiculous), and the plastic mask with tiny elastic string to hold it on the head – eye holes and small nose holes cut out for us to breathe through. I remember one year wearing Wonder Woman in this style of costume – crazy hot but I didn’t care! My mom would have already bought big bags of snack sized treats, and loaded up her popcorn bowl in order to give it out until it was gone. And back then? The bowl pretty much ALWAYS got emptied by a constant stream of youngsters ringing our bell. We wandered the streets until our pumpkins were so full that we could hardly carry them from the weight.
1979 (Nine years old – fourth grade): Somewhere in these years, I recall one year either not knowing what I wanted to be for Halloween or not being able to find it. So what did most kids do when they had no costume, but still wanted to go out Trick-or-Treating with their friends? They made their own! On more than one Halloween night as a kid, after not being able to decide on an acceptable costume, I ultimately became the thing that I could do in a pinch: a hobo. My pants and shoes, one of my dad’s button-up dress shirts and a loosely tied necktie, some goofy looking hat of his, and some of mom’s brown eyebrow pencil that would create my scraggly whiskers. Boom. Done. On my way out the door.
Regardless of all the things that we were NOT afraid of, there was never a shortage of urban legends that DID manage to keep us on our toes leading up to Halloween night, and all the way until our heads hit the pillow at its close. Why do you think that we never ate a piece of candy while we were out begging the neighborhood? Because our parents forbid us to touch it until we got back home, spread it all out on the table, and had it inspected. Oh you remember why…there were weirdos out there who would inject poison into fruits and candy via needle. Or drugs even! They also had been known to put razor blades in kids’ buckets in a twisted scheme to cut us up….scary stuff!! So off we would go, collecting our loot, and then drag it back home for inspection. One parent would take mine to either the kitchen table or the dining room table and spread every single piece into a single layer, while the other parent took my brother’s to the other table. Anything homemade – cookies, brownies, etc. – automatically thrown out. Any piece of fruit – apples or oranges typically – out. Popcorn balls – out. Any piece of candy with a loose or torn wrapper – out. Once all of that sorting and tossing was done, we would gather everything that was left back into our pumpkins, meet at one table, and begin trading and negotiating. Once business was all done and taken care of, THEN we got busy enjoying our favorites. And for weeks after Halloween had come and gone, we enjoyed its sweetness while we walked to school, in our lunchboxes, after school, and after dinner.
1986-1987 (sixteen/seventeen years old – junior/senior years): Once we got to a certain age, we stopped donning costumes and going door-to-door, not wanting to be those teenagers who we saw walking the neighborhood trying to scare the little kids, and shopping for free candy in no costumes while carrying a pillowcase. The exception to this was if one of our friends was having a Halloween party, and then we would find a costume for that. Other times, we would go to haunted houses with friends, but typically didn’t dress up in costume for those trips.
At sixteen, I dressed up as a prisoner in black/white strips for a party – complete with plastic ball & chain around my ankle, and handcuffs hanging off my wrist. The next year, as a senior, my best friend and I decided that we wanted to go Trick-or-Treating one more time. I used the same prisoner costume, but her dad decided to add to it. He was a makeup artist for a theater, so he created a nasty, bloody scab for my cheek and made me a prisoner who had escaped after an ordeal, apparently! It was awesome! We made the rounds in my neighborhood, and then went to the neighborhood where our French teacher lived – as we discovered when we ended up ringing her bell. Great memories.
Mid-90s to Present: All grown up and a parent now, the excitement of Halloween has shifted to decorating the house for the holiday, and picking out new costumes for the kids each year. It is rare and only occasionally that we will attend a Halloween party, and have only once or twice attended the big Street Party down in Dallas – it’s just not our thing these days. Halloween has definitely evolved since I was a kid, and the simple fun that it was for us seems far out of sight anymore.
Do kids have Halloween parties at school anymore? With one out of school, and one in high school, I know that they sometimes have “Costume Day” at school, but no parties anymore. And it has been so long since they were in elementary that I don’t remember. Many places have “Fall Festival” or “Autumn Festival” parties or events. Churches everywhere host Fall Harvest Festivals on Halloween, with rides, games, food, and tons of candy – while welcoming and encouraging costumes. Malls have store-to-store indoor trick-or-treating. Some cities host “Trunk-or-Treat” events, where parents go to a large parking lot, park, and open up their trunk that is stocked with candy so that kids can go from car to car and load up. When these kind of events first started becoming a thing, it was because of an ever-growing fear within communities regarding the safety of their youngsters. Parents became convinced that Trick-or-Treating was no longer safe, and for a while, it virtually disappeared. I bought into it along with most everyone else, and when my oldest was young, we were at our church’s Fall Harvest Festival every year, in costume. My middle son was born in 2000, and his first few Halloweens were spent at one of those festivals, but by the time he was in elementary, we were back to Trick-or-Treating, no matter how few there were out roaming the neighborhoods with us. Only now? Kids don’t go out in packs like we did, unless they are older. Flashlights accompany most groups now, either one in hand, or one shining from a cell phone. On a typical street block, less than half of the porch lights will be on, because people are either out at a “safe” event or location, or because people just don’t want to participate. Now that we have a little one in the house again, we take her around the streets near ours and then bring her back after a short trip out.
I typically don’t see homemade baked goods in the booty anymore – haven’t really since I was a kid. Nor do I see popcorn balls or fruit. But we typically see at least one toothbrush, sometimes a travel sized toothpaste – and to those people who give them out, I deem you a Halloween buzzkill. Just keep your stupid porch light off. We have also seen the occasional religious tract thrown in, or some other such odd non-candy item like pencils. Come on people! Were you not a kid…EVER??
Once we have finished making the rounds with our little girl – who will be one of the million Elsas this Halloween – we will come back to begin our duties as candy-giver-outers. For the past two years, we have put lawn chairs in the yard, played Halloween music through my iPhone on a speaker, and sat outside to give candy out. Once, I made pina coladas and we sat out front eating and drinking while we gave it out; the more we drank, the more generous we were! Our neighborhood doesn’t get many Trick-or-Treaters anyway, so we can be generous regardless. But sitting in the front lawn not only keeps the dog from losing her damn mind every time the doorbell gets pushed, it gives us a chance to see and visit with our neighbors and see their kids/grandkids costumes. Costumes have also come a long way since I was a kid. Rarely do you see a homemade one these days, and if you do, then you can almost guarantee that the mom has been on Pinterest. A LOT. And the prices of costumes at places like Party City or Spirit are crazy! Maybe I’m just old. But really….$50-$100 for a kid’s costume? Who are you trying to impress here? Oh, and don’t even get me STARTED on all of the sexy, hoochie, vampy little costumes that are out there for little girls and tweens!! Disgusting. (But someone is obviously buying them and dressing their kids in them, or they wouldn’t exist in mass quantities and various characters, right?)
So while Halloween has changed a lot over the years, the same, basic premise remains – and that is…CANDY. And fun! What is more fun that dressing up as something besides yourself, laughing, spending time with friends/family, getting spooked over a haunted house or scary movie, and eating junk that you normally don’t let yourself or your kids eat?? Calories be damned! Just get back out there and have fun!
Fun facts to send back to our moms:
* Number of deaths on Halloween from razor blades mixed with candy: 0
** Number of deaths on Halloween from poison injected/sprinkled into candy: 0
*** Number of deaths on Halloween from candy tampering: 0