Oh, how Halloween has changed - Keith Roulston editorial
Of all the special days that have changed since I was a lad, I’m guessing Halloween may be the one that has changed the most.
These days, Halloween seems second only to Christmas in the inordinate amount of attention given to it, and the money spent on its celebration. Stores start trumpeting their Halloween merchandise before Thanksgiving and the fuss increases right to the last moment.
Halloween, when I was a kid growing up on the farm, was very much a home-made holiday – it’s all we could afford. We might buy a mask, but the rest of our costume was pieced together from what was available around the house. There were probably lots of cowboys, since most boys had hats and imitation six-shooters. There were few girls in our neighbourhood, so I’m not well-informed on their choices in that era.
Once we were costumed, the excitement began. Off we’d walk down the farm lane, joining up with the other farm kids and going from house to house. At each, we’d get homemade candy. (It was in the days before a few malcontents changed Halloween forever by putting razor blades in candy. These sick idiots must be heroes to commercial candy companies!)
I still remember one elderly neighbour who made a game every year about trying to unmask the little visitors, playfully chasing one or more around her kitchen before giving in and offering her candy.
The innocence of those days was changed when it became known, one year, that there was a rabies outbreak in local foxes and other wildlife. I guess rabies had been around but we youngsters weren’t aware of it, and it was in the days before officials dropped baits to inoculate the animals. Neighbours arranged to drive us from house to house that year, but some of the fun was gone.
On the other side of the holiday, there was less celebration in what older boys would make of Halloween. The most elaborate of these stunts that I remember, took place at the old two-storey Lucknow Public School that I attended, when some industrious boys dismantled an ancient horse-drawn delivery wagon at a nearby business, hoisted it piece by piece to the roof of the school, and put it back together on the roof. There it remained the next day when we returned to school. I never learned how officials got it down when cranes weren’t used.
Not all the trickery from older boys was so cute. When I got older, I remember that part of our same gang set out to shut off the switch to a neighbour’s electricity while he was milking his dairy cattle with his electric milkers. It had happened before, so when we got to the neighbour’s we found a band of wire around the electrical box to prevent us from repeating the stunt. Some of the youngsters simply got into the nearby tool shed and borrowed wire-cutters, cut the wire and turned off the power. We learned later that the farmer had just bragged to his wife on how he’d outsmarted the kids, when the power went out. It was only later, when I began milking myself, that I felt badly about how much time and effort would have been needed to clean the milkers before milking restarted.
Unfortunately, the vandalism surrounding Halloween just got worse and worse for several years. I recall, in my early years of publishing, that stories would circulate about fires on the main streets of various communities as young people (mostly boys) got together. It’s a side of Halloween that we’re not at all sorry to see disappear.
So now it’s back to being a holiday for little kids. But, oh, how it’s changed! I remember when one daughter moved to the country and bought candy in preparation to welcome young visitors as she had done when she was young. No one came. Later, she learned that all the kids went to town where they could visit more homes and get more candy in the limited time they had before bedtime.
We haven’t had a single Halloween caller for years. We did have the children of a neighbour new to Canada from Europe one year and had to scramble for something to give them, but they caught on quickly and we’ve been alone for years now.
Meanwhile, kids have been given an introduction to capitalism – making the most of your time and resources to accumulate the most you can. For urban residents, where Halloween used to be a chance to get to treat your neighbours’ children, they may not even know the kids who call anymore. They simply dish out more and more purchased candy.
And if the big losers are the homeowners who seem to shell out an endless stream of goodies, the big winners are the stores and manufacturers who sell and make the candy and costumes the kids wear. I’m sure the kids still have fun, but they also learn the modern consumer’s lesson: you can always have more!