Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Delicious demon

Dawn of the dead, version 1, originally uploaded by pwilnyc.

We trick or treated last night for an hour and a half. My three-year-old son hung in there enthusiastically, walking around the neighborhood til even my feet were sore! That's my boy!

Scientist costume, originally uploaded by pwilnyc.

He ditched both the wig and the glasses though, I mean, wouldn't you? Our group had a witch, a princess, a ghost, a bee, a vampire, Thomas the Tank Engine, a paleontologist (Mr. Three - I didn't tell him that I have known a disproportionate number of paleontologists, and I have very seldom seen them wearing lab coats), and Big Man, who was a walking art table. We saw hundreds of kids, it was a scene, man. The perfect night, too, warm and misty and moonlit.

A lot of grownups dressed up too. I saw a woman in an Afro wig, hoop earrings, and a miniskirt scarecrow outfit - I think she was a cross between Michael Jackson and Diana Ross in The Wiz! Our friend Daphne and her daughter Neighbor Girl both dressed as witches, with big and little brooms. When someone asked Neighbor Girl what she was, she said, "I'm a witch, just like my mama!" Got a big laugh.

"I'm a witch, just like my mom!", originally uploaded by pwilnyc.

And if you think WE decorate OUR house for Halloween, boy you should have seen the next block over! Fog machines, spinning bats, spooky sound effects, adults dressed like zombies and witches handing out candy... there was even a jack o'lantern carved to look like an Imperial stormtrooper - man that takes skill!

But Tom Chalkley's house gets the prize. Tom dressed like a (dead) gravedigger and was actively burying a body in his front yard. He told some yarn about the "dead" guy and was impressively creepy all by himself, but then, after an extra jet of fog, the dead man lurched up out of his grave and flopped around, convincingly zombie-esque. It was a virtuoso performance - you could hear the kids screaming and laughing all the way down the block.

Now... here is the thing.

Is it ok to scare the bejeebers out of little kids like that? Is it, in fact, ok for kids to go door to door demanding candy?

Well I mean you can tell that I would say yes. I love flamboyant; I love spooky. But I'm also a Nazi mom who doesn't have cookies or broadcast television in the house. In fact, it's because I'm so strict about a lot of things (manners, diet, TV, safety) that I think Halloween has an important place.

For one night, you don't have to say thank you for the candy (although I caught myself reflexively reminding the kids to do it). You can EAT candy. You can go out after dark; you don't have to walk on the sidewalk. You can cross the street without a 30-second ritual of looking back and forth and holding a hand (not the big streets obviously).

One night of transgression doesn't develop bad habits or undo even a short lifetime of training. The costume reinforces the concept that We Are Not Ourselves tonight.

Sweet, sweet freedom.

Big Man's school had a "Harvest Festival" in addition to their Halloween parade, for all the sad kids whose parents are Jehovah's Witlesses (yes I said it) or 7th Day Adventists. They're not allowed to "celebrate" Halloween because it is derived from a pagan holiday.

First of all, do we "celebrate" Halloween? Certainly not in the same way that we "celebrate" Mass, or Diwali, or Easter. I think we "observe" Halloween.

And second, who's going to break the bad news to them about the pagan origins of Christmas and Easter?

I don't get this joyless bullshit. What about Halloween is so threatening as to inspire a ban? I just don't buy that it's the scary witches and devils and the implications of violence - if that's so, those people's kids had better not be watching TV or movies. Is it the lapse in discipline that Halloween represents? Or is it that the children are in charge?

I think the latter. After all, kids are the ultimate pagans - until they are instructed in established traditions, they make up their own rituals and superstitions, and draw their own conclusions about the world, which adults, for the most part, are constantly trying to correct, if not thwart entirely.

And I think that's why I am so offended that someone would ban Halloween. It's this one night when we relax and let them follow their instincts. A drop of anarchy in little lives that otherwise should be tightly controlled. One night of the year to taste freedom and power, to learn that it is sweet but also scary.