Friday, October 29, 2010

In Defense of Halloween, an American Cultural Celebration for Children

Norman Rockwell
When I think of Halloween in the United States, this is what comes to mind: Little kids looking adorable in their superhero, princess, or pirate costumes, families making memories carving funny faces on pumpkins and scooping out the goo, school parties and costume parades and contests for the most original homemade costume. Bobbing for apples, the excitement of troops of little ones out after dark with mom or dad, skipping from house to house for trick-or-treating. The loot sorting afterwards, your sister trading you Milk Duds for your Good and Plenty. Watching It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on television a few days prior, practicing cut-and-paste skills in the creation of construction paper bats and spiders, and maybe a harmless spooky story or two. Norman Rockwell captured the spirit of Halloween as a cultural phenomenon of American childhood in several of his iconic covers for The Saturday Evening Post:
Norman Rockwell, Hallowe'en 1925
Norman Rockwell, Hallowe'en 1920
What I love most about the 1920 cover above is the expression of delighted fake fear on the man's face as he pretends to be scared of the little girl in the sheet. Boo!

Let's take a stroll down memory lane and see how our parents and grandparents celebrated Halloween as children:
Halloween circa 1948
Halloween circa 1950
1958 School Halloween Party at the Kansas School for the Deaf
Halloween circa 1960
1960s Halloween
Class picture from a school Halloween party taken in the 1970s
School Halloween Party circa 1975

Carving Pumpkins in 1977
  That last photo is my family carving pumpkins in 1977 according to our annual tradition.  Susan on the left, me in the middle, and Janice the Manice about to climb into the pumpkin on the right.  I'm pretty sure the way this went down is that we drew the faces on the pumpkins with a black magic marker, and Dad cut them out with a knife.  I think I drew elegant eyelashes on my pumpkin one year and was disappointed that Daddy could not execute these details with the carving knife!

Halloween 1977, Rebecca Grace and Susan Nicole
  Here we are in our Halloween costume a few days later, posing next to the Jack-o-Lanterns.  And no, her middle name isn't really Nicole -- that's an inside joke.  :-)  Man, I wish I still had that orange wig; Anders wants to be Ron Weasley for Halloween and I'm still not sure how I'm going to safely turn his sweet blond locks to orange!

Halloween 1979
 That's me (and part of Janice the Manice) in the photo above as witches for Halloween in 1979, yet the scariest thing in the picture is the hot pink lamp thingy hanging in the background.  

Of course, the best Halloween costumes are always the homemade ones.  My mom made my brother an R2-D2 costume one year, and Janice the Manice was Princess Leah in her nightgown with Reebok sneakers on her feet.  I'm pretty sure that flower thing on top of her head was a little silk flower ring that went around a scented candle from our dining room table.

Check out this House of Cards themed group costume that won first price in a Halloween costume contest back in 1980:

Lars's First Halloween, duck costume made by me with the help of Mom & Grammy
 Since the duck costume, I haven't made any more costumes for my kids (not entire costumes, anyway -- I did make some Jedi cloaks a few years back to go with store-bought Star Wars costumes). However, we did have a family Justice League Halloween in 2006, with Anders as Batman, Lars as Spiderman, and I just couldn't resist making an Aquaman costume for Bernie.  I used a Kwik-Sew men's skating costume pattern, with hunter green stretch velvet for the pants and a sequined orange lycra fabric for the top that looked like scales... or disco... depending on your perspective.  I actually justified the purchase of my coverstitch serger in a fit of frustration because I didn't like the way my other hemming options were working on the Aquaman top.  So, all in all, this Aquaman costume cost close to $1,500.  I hope Bernie appreciated it!

Halloween 2006: Anders, Bernie & Lars
 SO...  I've been stomping around the house all week, complaining about Elon Park Elementary School's anti-Halloween policy, and I had originally planned to write an impassioned defense of harmless holiday festivities at school.  Lars's school had something called a "Fall Harvest" party on Thursday, and parents were sent explicit instructions forbidding any party plates, napkins or decorations with so much as a spider or a black cat on them.  What even IS a Fall Harvest party?  If we celebrate the harvest in October, doesn't that make the Thanksgiving party redundant in November?

If you google things like "anti halloween schools" and "halloween banned schools" you will find, as I did, that a mostly misinformed minority of parents is being allowed to impose their wishes on the rest of us, and the schools are just trying to avoid controversy so they can focus on education.  I actually found where one woman claimed that having a classroom Halloween party is like forcing all children to fast in observance of Ramadhan.  Excuse me?  Whatever the roots of Halloween may or may not have been in Europe in the 16th century or earlier, it has always been a widespread and completely secular holiday in the United States.  No one is suggesting seances and human sacrifices, and most of the little kids would rather dress up as Disney princesses and superheroes than witches or skeletons anymore.  Give me a break.  If you'd like to argue with me about this, feel free to comment.

Anyway, we're looking forward to celebrating Halloween at our house this year.  Our decorations are up outside, and tomorrow morning we're going in costume to a Charlotte Symphony Lollipops concert to listen to spooky orchestral music, then carving our pumpkins in the afternoon.  Sunday after church, the boys will be doing early trick-or-treating with their Kids In Christ youth group to collect donations for Loaves & Fishes to feed those in the community who are in need.  Then after dinner, as soon as it gets dark, it's trick-or-treat time in the neighborhood!

I hope you and your families all have a wonderful weekend, regardless of how you choose to celebrate -- or not celebrate -- Halloween.


John Hilla said...

I totally agree! My favorite time of the year, and you've captured the (proper) spirit perfectly! Thanks for a fun read & great photos!

Joseph Charles said...

Your second image is not a Rockwell. It's Frederic Stanley.

Joseph Charles said...

But this is a wonderful post. I loved it. Thank you. And Happy Halloween.