Hallowe’en memories and musings

Hallowe’en, always.  That extra apostrophe is special, though I sometimes drop it.  Cultural pressure tends to make one lazy, but the day deserves that special mark.  Hallowe’en is an abbreviation of All Hallow’s Evening.  Fall arrives that day for me, not on September 21, and the mind turns to winter coming.  I like to celebrate each holiday in turn.  First, Hallowe’en, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas.  Our culture doesn’t let that happen.  They rush everything through.

I live in an apartment again, so probably won’t get trick-or-treaters tonight.  I’ll see pictures or posts with kids wearing cute costumes online, and despite reports of “chambermaid costumes for six year olds” (yech!) I’d like to think that girls will wear princess costumes from Disney’s latest and that boys still think Spiderman is cool.  So to celebrate Hallowe’en, I turn to thoughts and memories, and suggest some great Hallowe’en music treats to complement your foray into that wierd day when the dead walk because walls between worlds are thin, and they can get through.

This is a “stupid-stition” (an occasional neologism I use for superstition) but the notion runs through many cultures.  Ghost stories and tales of “walking dead” have been with us since the beginning.  We like being frightened, just for a while, and the best place to be frightened is safe at home with a bowl of popcorn and a copy of Dracula.

Many a church will substitute a Harvest Festival tonight, and have an indoor party.  I understand the impulse to keep kids safe, and avoid any truck with that nameless foe who walks the earth, restless for souls, itching to cause trouble.  But even on Halloween, “Greater is He who is in you than he that is in the world.”  Kids don’t need to fear the devil, if their hearts are filled with light.  So trick-or-treat with a flashlight, check the candy, take some photos and make a few fun memories.  Send the kids off with a prayer.

When we celebrated Hallowe’en, we were a little more inventive than most kids today.  Someone in the neighborhood created a haunted house.  They blindfolded you, sent you down to the basement, and turned on some ghostly music.  You stuck your hands into thickened jello, peeled grapes and spaghetti, representing parts of bodies. A ghostly voice intoned “this is the hea-a-a-r-r-t.”   It sent a shiver up many a nine-year old.  I’ve been to many more sophisticated “haunted houses,” where monsters jump out at you, and lights flash, but that neighborhood house was just as scary.  (Loveland Castle is a neat place to spend Hallowe’en.)

One Hallowe’en party, we threw shoes at each other, and told ghost stories.  (The trick was to make sure that no one saw you do it, and claim that a ghost did it.)  Trick-or-treating once with friends, I went toward someone’s house, and the girl I was with (I was new to the neighborhood) pulled me back, and in an amazed and scared whisper said “Don’t go up there;  she doesn’t believe in Hallowe’en!”  (This only made me more curious, but she went on to describe the home-owner as “a mean old witch.”  (A witch who doesn’t believe in Hallowe’en?  Hmm.  Story potential!) I dressed up as a ghost, a hobo, hula girl, or clown; I don’t remember my costumes as being glam or over-the-top. We made up our costumes from old clothes.  I didn’t like masks, because they often cut off my already bad vision, so I preferred making up and walking out with a flashlight.  I remember Mom putting make-up on me, a really special thing, since I wasn’t allowed to wear make-up any other day.  In those days, one could still burn leaves, and the smell of the smoke was always a special part of fall.  So was the crunch and scrape of leaves as we scuffed through gold-orange carpets or plunged into banks of red-brown leaves as we made our way to lighted houses where candy awaited us.  Sometimes we pushed each other into them, but we had business to attend to:  candy awaited, so we didn’t do that more than a time or two.  Naturally, we had to wear jackets out the door, but  always took them off down the street, and put them back on before we got to our own front porch.  Sometimes, the wind whipped through our costumes, but that only added to the shivers from fright.

In my home town, once you were fourteen, you couldn’t go about wearing masks anymore, so trick-or-treating ended, which brought me a pang of sadness.  I felt my childhood had ended.  That year, I decided I’d dress up and surprise the kids with my own costume, as I handed out treats.  I got as much joy out of seeing their faces and outfits as I did getting candy. Though I loved the sweets, for me, it was costumes and play-acting that really made the day so much fun.  That, the ghost stories and cider.

Now, I listen to music or watch scarey movies on Hallowe’en.  Midnight Syndicate is perfect:  any of their music. Loreena McKennit’s “All Souls’ Night” is also great to hear this time of year. Our church organist (who studied with Vergil Fox, Vergil Fox!  Wow!)  always plays the “Tocata and Fugue” (followed up with “Holy Holy Holy”) each Sunday before Hallowe’en.  It’s wonderfully appropriate, since All Soul’s day follows Hallowe’en.

For movies, I watch Frankenstein, Dracula, The Tell-Tale Heart or a Hammer film. (Premature Burial made my veins pound as a kid.)  None of those modern slasher movies, thank you:  get the classics!  They have an entirely different feel.  Skip the purple and orange lights, with creepy gray LED bulbs that look like the old static particles on TV.  They make a place darker, not in a good way. Jack o’lanterns, hay bales and a freaky witch would decorate my porch.  I love the animated brooms, ghouls and skeletons that respond to motion, though they scared me as a kid.  There’s some comfort in being a grown up.  Have a fun and happy Hallowe’en!

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