My, how Halloween has changed - Keith Roulston editorial
The Halloween holiday seems to get bigger every year with more elaborate decorations and kids’ costumes, but, for me, it seems to fade in importance - or maybe I just get older (and grouchier).
Halloween is a kids’ holiday (unless you count those people who seem to build larger and more elaborate decorative displays every year), and yet, for kids, things just seem to get bigger - and yet smaller.
When I was young, Halloween was a neighbourhood event. Oh, we had a celebration at school, but I remember little of that. I also remember hardly anything about the costumes we decked ourselves out in, which were generally made of anything we could put together from what was available around the house. We never went out and bought a costume, as parents seem to do today.
Once it was dark, we’d get dressed in whatever costume we’d rounded up, then head out - on our own. One by one we’d pick up the kids of the neighbourhood and walk along the road, visiting neighbours. I’ll always remember one elderly neighbour who would threaten to unmask us, chasing us around her kitchen before giving up and bringing out her wonderful homemade candy.
Halloween changed, one year, when there was an outbreak of rabies just before the holiday and parents drove us from house to house to get our candy.
That’s one of the few places Halloween has been diminished. Somewhere along the line some grumpy homeowners (I’d guess in urban areas) decided to take revenge on trick-or-treaters by putting razor blades in their candy. We only visited our neighbours - a half-dozen homes or more - so we remembered who gave us what and nobody would try such a stunt. But as kids sought a wider variety of homes to visit, the danger became greater. Most parents only allow their kids to accept store-bought
Halloween wasn’t just for the little kids in those days. Older boys in our neighbourhood carried out their pranks, too, most relatively innocent. I always remember going to school in town one morning after Halloween, and there on the roof of the two-storey school, was an old delivery wagon. Seems some of the older boys had seen the wagon parked idly in the yard of a nearby mill, unused because it was horse-drawn, and came up with the idea. They took the wagon apart, hoisted it to the roof of the school, and reassembled it. I doubt it would have been so easy to persuade teenagers to put the same amount of energy into tasks their parents wanted them to do.
We weren’t nearly as ambitious when I grew older. We did get used to turning off the electricity for the most modern farmer in the neighbourhood who had a bulk milk operation. One year, when we went, he’d been prepared to thwart us. He’d wired the electrical box closed so we couldn’t switch off the power.
Faced with such a hindrance, the more adventurous of our gang had a plan. They went to his nearby tool shed and got some
wire cutters. We cut the wire, opened the electrical box and turned off the power.
Later, the story went around among the women in the community that he had been bragging to his wife that he had outsmarted us when the lights went out.
One of the good things about the change in how Halloween is celebrated is that it is mostly for little kids these days. I recall, even when we had our own young children and lived in town, that young gangs took advantage of Halloween to terrorize the community. One year, I remember, they picked on Brussels, blocking main street with a huge bonfire and keeping police on the run.
One of the things I admire about those adults who decorate the whole street and welcome visitors to view their work for a couple of weeks in a row, is how adults seem to share the fun. My father-in-law, in contrast, got tired of it all over the years and got to the point where he’d arrange to visit elsewhere on Halloween night to miss the visitors.
We don’t have to try so hard. Years ago kids in our neighbouhood, and I suspect most rural neighbourhoods, started going to town because there were many more houses you could visit in the same time and much more candy could be collected. Since then, we simply stopped decorating and stocking up on candy.
I suspect Halloween feels different in town, too, as homeowners get more visitors and give more store-bought candy, but have less contact with the little ghosts and goblins who call, probably not even knowing many of them. It’s good for the candy-makers, of course, who sell ever more store-bought candy.
Halloween has changed so much over the years, becoming a bigger holiday while the destructiveness has diminished. But, are we as close with our neighbours as we used to be?