The season of ghosts, ghouls, goblins and gremlins is days away, just around a dark corner. Feel scared yet? Have the hairs on your neck and arms started to tingle?
Despite its triviality, Halloween was a refreshing antidote seven weeks after 9/11 and, again in 2002, when it was welcomed as a brief respite and diversion from lingering fears, unease and anxieties. Compared to the terrorist attacks, and the Beltway sniper shootings the following year, Halloween is neither daunting nor haunting.
Nevertheless, potentially harmful Halloween hijinks that were common several generations ago — like tossing raw eggs and water balloons, striking someone with a crushed chalk-filled sock, TPing or spraying shaving cream — are, by and large, just obnoxious vandalism compared to what our national psyche went through after the 2001 attacks.
Real life, we realized, is so much more terrifying.
Other than the candy I hand out to the trickle of trick-or-treaters who turn up at my door every year, and the rare, obligatory company bash I attended when I worked in the corporate world, I haven’t participated in Halloween since my youth.
The anticipation of Halloween fades as we get older. More than any other festivity, Halloween is best suited for childhood. After a certain age — say ten, for argument’s sake — there’s really not much to look forward to unless you crave a few hours of traipsing through your neighborhood for the sole purpose of collecting goodies and engaging in a little harmless mischief. (I’d add bobbing for apples, but today’s youth might find that activity unappealing, unless it could be executed on some hi-tech, hand-held gadget.)
The ones most likely to get pleasure from Halloween are chocoholics seeking to gratify a sweet tooth, candy purveyors and dentists giddy with visions of patrons with mouths blemished by cavities.
Halloween, like Valentine’s Day, Easter and Christmas, has evolved into an excess of crass commercialization. American households spend an estimated $2 billion a year on candy in anticipation of Halloween and a few billion more — or less — is shelled out for costumes, decorations and pumpkins waiting to be carved into jack-o-lanterns.
And it’s not just children who dress up to mimic the latest rage, idol or classic character. Millions of adults, who ache to briefly return to their carefree youth, wanna have fun, too, so they purchase, rent or design elaborate costumes, many of which are flamboyantly flaunted annually at the gala Greenwich Village Halloween parade.
Hollywood, not a community to pass up a financial prospect, seeks its share of the seasonal cash flow by releasing the latest “spooktacular” productions as Halloween approaches that, in theory, are supposed to attract — and scare — fans of that ilk.
In the days and weeks leading up to October 31st, one channel or another cleverly programs a line up for the autumn festival with a harvest of movies that are magnets for horror fans. These “scare-a-thons” or “fright-fests” typically feature such creepy classics as “Frankenstein,” “Dracula,” “The Mummy” and “The Wolfman,” as well as more modern, B-grade gore-fest goodies, like “Night of the Living Dead, “The Nightmare on Elm Street” series, “The Hills Have Eyes” and the string of grisly “Saw” flicks. And Halloween wouldn’t be Halloween without the eponymous slasher series, including two remakes that have frightened horror aficionados since 1978.
Despite Halloween’s fundamental irrelevance, pockets of contemporary religious fundamentalists (mostly Christian, but some Jews and Muslims, too) can be counted on to condemn Halloween as a pagan tradition that glorifies Satan and revives legends from the Dark Ages, such as the consumption of blood, infant sacrifices and orgies, with little, if any, historical basis.
Such criticism is especially scary!
Though All Hallows Eve has unorthodox roots, those who partake in contemporary celebrations, pranks or fashion jack-o-lanterns, simply do it for amusement, not some sinister observance! After all, witches, warlocks and devil worshippers are free to engage in their evil magical powers anytime, not just on Halloween.
The history of Halloween trick-or-treating, according to the 2003 book, “Death Makes A Holiday,” surfaced during the Depression when homeowners surrendered to roaming youth gangs to nip potential vandalism in the bud.
What should be a relatively straightforward occasion, has, nevertheless, become overrun with concerns. In my youth, my brother, my friends and I went unaccompanied from building to building and house to house and collected assorted candies, and unwelcome, albeit more nutritional, apples. But, today, parents have must be vigilant and cautious, and, more than ever, are likely to escort trick-or-treating youngsters. They also heed perennial warnings and keep an eye out for tainted treats inserted with sharp objects by some sicko or, the most worrisome alert, sexual predators.
Told ya real life is scary!
To a much lesser degree than a decade ago, fear still impacts our lives. Yet, regardless of how eerie imaginary bogeymen, zombies and hobgoblins, or costumes and adornments that materialize around Halloween may seem, compared to legitimate deadly threats — biological and nuclear terrorism, potential viral pandemics, homegrown radicals, rampaging maniacs and foreign fanatics— everyday life is far more terrifying.
Real life notwithstanding, enjoy the frights and delights of Halloween. Happy haunting!