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Wednesday, October 14, 2015


Last November, my son and I happened upon a VHS copy of Halloween is Grinch Night at our church holiday bazaar; being the only human left in possession of a working VCR, I figured it was destiny.  For those of you not familiar with this 1977 Emmy Award winning holiday classic, it is a musical special once again featuring the town of Whoville and the ill-temper of the Grinch; all you REALLY need to know is that Dr. Seuss wrote it.  If you are not sold on this fact alone, I suggest you have your heart examined, because there is an excellent chance it is two sizes too small. 

In spite of the title, its connection to Halloween is thematic only; this may or may not be the reason it “never caught on” and is now nowhere to be found in any televised rotation.  Any-who, we all enjoyed it and have decided that as long as our VCR holds out, it will become one of our Halloween month traditions, along with It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (featuring the vocal stylings of Bing Crosby!  Swoon!).  Revisiting all of these childhood memories, most especially the Grinch, makes me reflect on how the evolution of this holiday speaks to a larger thematic shift about how we approach life that has happened over the last 30 years.

A-way back in the 1970’s Halloween meant a lot of awesome homemade treats…popcorn balls, Rice Krispy bars, caramel and candied apples…of course, a-way back in the 1970’s, your neighbors were also your friends.  Costumes were mostly homemade too and my mother was handy with a sewing machine, lucky me; she made me amazing Cinderella, Bat Girl, Raggedy Ann and Princess Leia costumes. 

One year I had the thrill of selecting a STORE BOUGHT costume…mad with power, I wandered the aisles of Hills department store, looking at the endless selection of masks peering out of those neat square boxes.  So hard to pick one, but my ultimate choice was “Jeannie”, as in “I Dream of”; a Barbara Eden Mask, a vest and Harem pants!  Junk compared to what Mom made, but treasured all the same.  My friends and I ran the streets of the neighborhood alone, no parental mascot and no thoughts of pranks or “tricks”…that was something “bad” kids did.  Halloween decorations were die-cuts and jack o’lanterns…no animatronic zombies or graveyards.  Halloween was a simple, but satisfying affair.  A night of freedom, make-believe and sugar!  Ah, bliss!
It is interesting to read about the origins of this holiday, because basically they boil down to superstitions and fear-driven behaviors.  Unfortunately, that is the slow tide we have watched returning over the course of my lifetime.  For example: every child of my era remembers why the home made treats stopped:  RAZOR BLADES IN APPLES!  Except…turns out, that wasn’t so much true.  And remember how our parents used to examine our candy to make sure it hadn’t been tampered with?  Fact is, an in depth study has revealed that there has NEVER been a confirmed case of a child dying as a result of candy being poisoned or otherwise tampered with by a stranger. 

That last word has significance, of course.  Let’s just say “strangers” have not been the problem and leave it at that.  As for the “razor blades”, the first known confirmed case of a person intentionally giving out candy with sharp objects embedded to random children didn’t happen until the year 2000.  So why did this fear become so prevalent?  Turns out, a media promoted “culture of fear” was already in bloom.  In fact, the New York freakin’ Times published a report in the 70’s that said  “Halloween goodies that children collect this weekend… may bring them more horror than happiness,” and proceeded to tell parents all the ways candy could potentially be messed with, even though there had never been an instance of it actually happening at the time.  AHEM.  Pretty darn Grinchy!

A fun fact about the origins of Halloween costumes:  they were intended as a defensive device.  The long hours of darkness, in those superstitious times, meant a greater chance of confrontation with evil spirits; the costumes were an attempt to “trick” the demons into believing we were one of them.  The more terrifying the costume, the better!  So when did we start being “offended” by Halloween costumes?  I date that back to the early 2000’s, when the Wiccan religion got a lot of press because they seemed to be quite suddenly upset by traditional witch costumes. 

But when I researched it, I could only find one incidence—a school district in the Seattle area banned the pointy noses and hats—and only one network that kept the coverage about it alive.  Oh, our good friends at FOX NEWS!  If there is some way to take offense or marginalize a group they have deemed as “other”, they just cannot resist!  People got whipped up about the Wiccans trying to spoil our good time, and because there is always an equal and opposite reaction, at least according to laws of physics, deliberately “offensive” costumes became more prevalent (and frankly MUCH more in keeping with the original intent—would a Disney Princess scare an evil spirit???  DON’T ANSWER THAT!)  Anyhow, now we are pretty Grinchy about costumes, too.
Let’s not forget how food allergies and sensitivities have impacted us, as well…a quick Google search tells me that no child has died as a result of an allergic reaction to a holiday treat, but it is something we all have a very heightened awareness of now, most especially when it comes to Halloween parties and anything that happens in school.  If you search the internet you’ll find stories about counties and cities banning Halloween, putting a curfew as to how late kids can be out, and even putting an age cap saying that 14 years old is too old for trick-or-treating.  Excuse me?  If I buy the candy, it should be MY decision how old is “too old” and when I turn out my lights. 

The only restriction I place on who gets candy at my house is this:  if you show up without a costume, you better have a darn good reason (or think of something funny to say about what you ARE wearing), else I send you away empty handed.  Teen-agers in my neighborhood will confirm this has happened; however, teen-agers in my neighborhood by and large come up with AWESOME costumes, so it is not an epidemic.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that trick-or-treating may be a dying art, as parents forego its “dangers” for “safer” parties.   The fear based media has taught us to be afraid of Halloween for all the wrong reasons; the consumerism machine then swooped in to make Halloween an expensive holiday to celebrate.  Doesn’t this sound like what has happened to a lot of aspects of life?

In Halloween Is Grinch Night, a child confronts society’s worst fears and saves the day. If I could boil the lesson down to one sentence, it would be this:  when we are brave enough to face our fears we see that we are equal to them; not only because of our courage, but also because in MOST cases, they have been greatly exaggerated.  I guess the point I am making is that on Halloween, as well as in life, we are being trained to return to our superstitious, fear-based roots.   The media told us not to trust strangers on Halloween, even though there was NO REASON for it…doesn’t THAT sound familiar? 

The media told us a nonmainstream religion wanted to spoil our good time and “ruin” our values…and doesn’t THAT sound familiar too?  The local government told us that THEY would be making decisions for how and when we celebrate this totally innocuous event…sadly, that is starting to be something we accept as well.  We are being told to distrust others, fear cultures that are not our own and submit to the will of “greater”authorities even though there is little or no evidence as to why any of it should be so.   If we could choose to trust each other more, be more inclusive, less offended and STOP trying to legislate and micromanage people’s lives, I think we would all be having a lot more fun.  Not just on Halloween, either. 

1 comment:

  1. Great points. We shan't be herded into fear! And as regards VCRS, I am still using them. Plural. I have perfected my system from the 80's and, a couple times per week, have multiple VCRs recording multiple shows at once---4 VCRs via 2 different rooms as I watch a 5th show, and they're still doing a better job than some of my friend's DVRs. Dammit.