Monday, November 2, 2009

Whatever Happened To Halloween?

Another Halloween come and gone. One of the fondest memories I have of trick-or-treating as a child was the news that someone was passing out real caramel apples — an amazing concept to a child (and even more amazing to an adult who's tried making them). I don't even remember if there were any left by the time I got there — just the pleasure of the journey was enough to seal it in my memory book.

To try and bestow that same kind of wow! factor today, I splurged and bought full-sized candy bars — 60 of them, in fact. None of these fun-sized midgets for me. As I write this, there are 18 left. And I would say that teen-agers, not children, represented half of those who came to our haunted doorstep (see photo).

We don't live in some out of the way place, either. It's a housing development, the kind of neighborhood that would have been teeming with children in the old days (heck, the family that owned the house before we did had eight kids).

As I wrote recently in Funny How Things Turn Out, this house and neighborhood are eerily similar to the one I grew up in. Even better for trick-or-treating, my old neighborhood was tucked away between railroad tracks, a cemetery, and a creek — all natural boundaries that made it a nicely self-contained place for two hours of candy-ransacking. When we were older, and Halloween fell under a full moon, dashing through the cemetery was especially exciting.

But was I mis-remembering how wonderful it was? I polled my sister and several next-door neighbors from those days. My sister Ann remembers a late-1950s group effort in which every house had a different activity — one was a haunted house where the kids reached into bags to feel creepy things they were told were eyeballs; at our house, our mother made donuts (which was almost as cool as caramel apples, but she never did it again).

But my brother-and-sister neighbors both recounted the embarrassing year that their father, on a health food kick, passed out apples instead of candy. As if that wasn't bad enough, he ran out of apples and started handing out potatoes instead. This could so easily have been the inspiration for Charlie Brown saying, "I got a rock," in It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. In the dark, a potato would look and feel like a rock.

Even so, amid the shower of candy, I doubt kids would remember the potato or the apples. At the same time, I find it so ironic than in the white-bread, Christian-dominated world of the 1950s (when "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance, after all), a completely pagan holiday such as Halloween could thrive. Yet now, in the 21st century, a much more secular time, Halloween seems to have withered like an aging witch. The very same people who presumably enjoyed it as children are the ones sitting with the lights off and the curtains closed.

I don't know what happened, but I will keep buying full-size candy bars until that sad, dark evening that the doorbell doesn’t ring at all.

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