Posted by: Hannah | 11/01/2011

Hallowe’en

I had a couple of thought-provoking conversations on Twitter today, which was good, because just the presence of the NaBloPoMo widget in my sidebar made me lock up entirely, a frozen ball of writer’s block. (The first day’s prompt did me no good, either. “What do you like best about writing” sounds perilously close to “What I did on my summer vacation”. But I digress).

Being as today I am taking the equivalent of a mental health day – only three extra kids! and one of them is asleep! and mine is playing alone in his room! so really that’s only two and they are playing together! – I’m going with the fun and easy topic of Hallowe’en, rather than the heavy and ugly-cry inducing discussion of why every woman in my circle, gorgeous & accomplished, every one, still feel insecure on some level because of whatever happened during their early teens.

Here are my boys, chomping at the bit to start trick or treating and totally DONE, MOM with having the annual pumpkin picture taken:

Ron and Harry. And pumpkins.

By 6:30 the pumpkins were lit, the pets were securely indoors, and the icy north wind we’ve had all week finally stopped. We grabbed our flashlight and bags and headed out.

This was our fourth year trick or treating in this neighbourhood. We don’t know most of our neighbours well. Or at all. We are in a rural area that is heavily populated with multi-generational families descended from fishermen; these days many are backyard mechanics or small-time drug dealers. They drive four-wheelers and have loud parties late into the night. Their daughters date guys ten years’ their senior and their sons drive drunk. They deride and fear “the city” as if it wasn’t a quick 15 minute drive away.

And they hate the “new people”. The new people who move out here for the surprisingly good school system, the proximity to town, the large yards and new community centre and relatively low property costs.

Most of our interactions with our neighbours when we first moved here were of the “get off my lawn or I’ll call the cops” variety. In our four years we’ve had a rock thrown through our window, gravel put in our gas tank, winter tires stolen out of our garage, at least one drunk pissing on our fence, and more noise complaints than I can remember.

Things have quieted more every year. Gradually, as they see that we are staying, that we mean to be a part of the good bits of this community (and there are so many!), the low-grade harassment is stopping. We even get smiling greetings occasionally.

Hallowe’en is the one day of the year when our many differences don’t seem to matter.

We knock on everyone’s door, if they have a porch light and a pumpkin. Even the door of the house that is the source of 99% of our complaints. And it’s funny. They remember us. They comment on how tall the boys are getting. We compare numbers of trick or treaters and exchange thoughts about the weather. We wish each other a good evening and part with smiles.

Last night we stopped and greeted more people than the year before. We bumped into Marie and her parents while out and about. We had hot dogs and hamburgers at one house. Ron knocked on every door (except one that had a creepy talking tombstone, he wasn’t going anywhere near anything that said it would “suck his soul”, no thank you) and Harry kept running ahead, casting spells with his wand and generally reveling in the abundance of treats that made his bag too heavy to carry 20 minutes out.

So much reminded me of my own childhood; the aroma of burned pumpkin, the unwritten rule that a lit porchlight means candy, the stuffy hot smell hitting you in the face on every doorstep, the excitement of getting to that one house that was distributing FULL-SIZED chocolate bars… my kids’ experience is so different from mine in many ways, but Hallowe’en is one time where I feel that I am giving them the same memories I treasure.

We never missed a Hallowe’en when I was a kid. Bad weather, illness, pregnancies, new babies, holiday-induced parental meltdowns – nothing stood in the way. I’ve trick or treated in snow, rain, unseasonable warmth, walking, driving, with family and with friends.

It’s not just about the candy. Or it shouldn’t be. It should be about community. I hate hearing about people who drive their kids to unfamiliar subdivisions just because the house-to-house walk is easier. In those cases, it IS about the candy, and it’s mercenary and awful. I’d rather the kids stay home, frankly.

For one night, all rules are broken, all bets are off. Kids stay up late, stuff their faces with sugar and trans-fats, play near lit candles, and talk to strangers over and over again.

As we made our way home, we pointed out constellations and sipped hot chocolate, walking slowly mostly for my sake but also because once we walked in our door, that primal feeling would be over for another year. As a kid I always found stopping so hard, not because there was more candy left uncollected but because there is no other night quite like it.

My boys clearly felt the same. Tired but happy, they scorned my offer of carte blanche with the treat bags, ate two things each, and staggered off to bed. Not far behind them I went too (after eating a Twix bar that tasted just as good as I remember).

I wonder sometimes if in a secular society Hallowe’en is replacing Christmas as the holiday where a community comes together. Perhaps that’s a post for a day when I don’t have a sugar hangover.

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Responses

  1. It is a community thing for us too. Down the road an old lady has an album full of pictures of neighbourhood kids, as she takes a picture each year. The thought of her “posting” them for any wrong reason doesn’t exist on that night. My kids walk into homes of strangers. But on Halloween they aren’t strangers, they’re neighbours.
    My shy little Owen was so excited he’d jump back into the car rattling on about how he said trick or treat all by himself and he wasn’t even scared and they gave him a can of POP!
    The candy is regulated or he’d make himself sick, but he loves it for more than that. He wears his costume for weeks before and weeks after. He remembers the comments of each family in each house and knows which kids live where. It brings us parents into the loop too. We don’t get to see where kids get off the bus. We don’t know who lives anywhere.
    We also got to meet the new family who lives on our road.
    The candy is just dessert.

    • Exactly. I love it.

  2. I’m wondering about the lit-porch-light-means-candy thing. PH said the same thing, and that his family never bothered to carve pumpkins. But my parents always said a lit JACK O LANTERN meant candy, and I remember one year our candle blew out and trick or treaters started skipping our house.

    Do you think this varies between regions?

    • Hmmm, the porch light thing… certainly a lit pumpkin is a guarantee that there will be candy. In the last ten or fifteen years it seems that a lit porch light will suffice as a signal that they are home and waiting for you to ring the doorbell. Oftentimes I’ve noticed that if there is a porch light but no pumpkin, the house usually has elderly people inside who might not be physically up to the challenge of carving an actual pumpkin but are anxiously waiting for little ones to come to the door. Certainly we’ve never once knocked on a pumpkinless but lit up house and been turned away.

  3. This is a really nice look into your life. Those will be such nice memories for your kids. My kids really enjoy trick or treating, and we live on a street where they are the only young kids. Everyone else is pretty old. So the kids get tons and tons of candy. Some neighbours buy them larger items specifically for them – big buckets of candy popcorn, light sabres with candy in them. It’s a really fun time for them and very special. I know my neighbours choose things that my kids like because, while there are a few other kids that come down our street, my kids are THE kids on the street. They are very lucky boys! It’s a nice community. My rules are the kids can eat as much as they want – after a day or two the novelty wears off and they end up eating a fun-sized chocolate bar every couple of days. It works for us.

  4. I loved Halloween as a child. The weeks of discussions beforehand about costumes, the hive of activity our neighbourhood turned into, the thrill of staying out late, the carved pumpkins and other decorations, and, of course, the treats.

    Here in Australia Halloween has not traditionally been celebrated, but there has been a big push in recent years (most notably by retailers) for it to be picked up. Part of me loves this (yay! I get to give my kids some of the memories I cherished so much!) part of me dislikes this (the commercialism of it, the further ‘Americanisation’ of Australia, the expense of lollies, the uncertainty about how to best to let my kids have their treats).

    This year was the first time I actually took my kids out – it turned out to be a good opportunity to hang out with other kids they know in the neighbourhood from childcare, and they got to meet more – which they loved when those kids then came trick or treating at our place. We move this weekend, close to the school we’ve chosen for the kids and into an area we hope to be for a long time to come, and where we want to create a strong sense of community. So I find myself wondering about how to do Halloween next year in a way that really engages our neighbourhood.

    Actually, I wonder that about any time of festivity – how to make the most of the opportunities that present themselves to potentially connect with those around us. Whether it be the elderly grumpy-looking man who lives on one side, or the tradie with a working dog on the other, or the family across the street with a young basketball-playing school-age boy and a teenager with a hotted up ute. I want to know them beyond the obvious characterizations, and to find ways to shape a sense of belonging that roots us in this place.

    I’m just not sure how. But I suspect Halloween and the like could be helpful in this endeavour.

  5. This was the first year that our son did not go out for Hallowe’en and I felt very sad as a result. For the past 16 years our family’s experience was very much like yours, a chance for him to reconnect with members of our community in a positive, affirming way. He would make a point each year to go and visit his babysitter’s grandmother, for instance, because she would remember him – and this was for ten years after the babysitter had moved away.
    Once again you have articulated my own feelings on a topic in an excellent and well written manner.


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