Friday, October 19, 2012

The Changing Face of Halloween

Halloween is on its way. Rather, I should call it The New Halloween.

Few things are exactly as we remember them from childhood. But Halloween may have undergone the most radical change of all.

Halloween was originally for kids. Knowing that it was coming meant it was time to pick a costume and decide what character you wanted to be. Moms were usually involved in the creation, which likely included some discarded clothing, perhaps a sheet with holes cut for eyes and maybe a mask purchased from Woolworth's or Kresge's. On the big day, kids disappeared during the lunch hour and returned to school dressed in costume. Younger kids often paraded around to visit each other's classes in costume, hoping that no one would recognize them.

Halloween was one time that we went to the neighbors' houses to trick or treat. It was simple but fun: we would knock on their door and ask for candy. Everyone would inspect his candy haul and carefully protect the loot. There was rarely an adult to accompany us as we covered the neighborhood in the dark. Occasionally a few of us would go to another neighborhood and perhaps be driven, but that was unusual.

The last time I recall going to any school Halloween event was in 7th grade when the school band had a big party. Many kids attended and there was a spook house where scary stories were told while your hand was immersed in dishes of raw liver. There were other activities including recorded music for dancing. But at 7th grade we already were outgrowing Halloween.

A lot of time has passed.

Today, Halloween is a big deal, especially for the adults. There are saucy, risqué costumes, the use of elaborate make-up techniques -- it's become very complicated. Sure, kids still trick or treat, but I would imagine nationwide the numbers of kids out on Halloween have vastly reduced.

Wonder when this all changed?

Many years ago, while living in a large city in the Southwest, we began to hear rumors of people "putting stuff" into treats handed out at Halloween. News reports indicated there were razor blades and straight pins being inserted into apples and candy bars. Just who the heck was doing such a thing? After all, this is a holiday for the kiddies. Some hospitals even offered to x-ray candy that had been received. Parents warned the kids not to eat anything before it was examined.

Today it's dangerous for small children to go out alone at night. I don't know whether or not there continues to be Halloween fear in all parts of the country. But most of the children who visit our house now at Halloween are in groups of 2 to 5 and always accompanied by at least one parent. Concern by parents is not over done. It's probably a very good idea.

Some towns don't encourage trick or treating at all. Instead, they have a community-wide event at a shopping mall, park or other public area where people congregate and kids can collect candy from local merchants. It's all in good fun and parents probably relax when there is a certain amount of structure. Sometimes these events include a costume contest with prizes given for creativity.

But nearly everywhere -- at stores, in offices, on campuses -- it appears to be the adults who wear the majority of costumes these days. They wear elaborate designs which consume a lot of time and even money to execute. In the 1950s, few -- if any -- adults participated. There might have been private parties at lodges or church groups which adults attended. But seeing someone in costume at the bank or grocery did not occur.

Several years ago, my groceries were checked out by The Hulk, a bulging specimen decked out in green paint wearing a torn shirt. This was the first time I recall seeing someone in the workplace in costume and it was a little awkward. Was I supposed to say, "Like your costume" as I handed him my check? Do workers know how out of place they appear?

Families still decorate for Halloween, carve pumpkins and buy bags of candy, but the spirit of Halloween seems to have changed. Too bad, too, because it's one of the last bastions of something set aside for children.

Perhaps that's why some people seem determined to remain a child for one more year.

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