The Hallowe’en Horror

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I remember driving through a little town, someplace in mid-America, that had a sign at its border: “Smithtown [or whatever it was]: Population, 1104 Friendly People, and 1 Ol’ Grouch.”

Lately I’ve been feeling like that ol’ grouch. The cause is Hallowe’en.

Is it just my misanthropy, or has this thing gone too far? I know there’s nothing wrong about turning what used to be a one-night opportunity for kids to pretend to be scared, or to be scary, into a months-long costume party for adults. I know that people like to have an excuse for parties, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I have no wish, I really don’t, to lecture other people about how to have fun. And, to tell you the truth, I can’t quite identify the reason for my increasing grouchiness over Hallowe’en.

Irrationally or not, I put Hallowe’en in the same box with Hump Day, a day in honor of hating one’s job.

But: isn’t there something weird about walking into a store a week before Labor Day, and seeing it decked out with Hallowe’en goods? Isn’t there something weird about walking into a bank and handing your money to a teller dressed like a pirate? Isn’t there something weird about adults celebrating scariness by dressing as French maids or cowboys or Harry Potter? If they dressed as Hillary Clinton, I might understand. Nevertheless . . .

I admit it: my last visit to a Hallowe’en party may have soured me a bit. Since the host and guests were all antiwar liberals, I showed up in some old Army fatigues. Maybe that would scare them, I thought. Granted, it was also my way of not spending time or money, but I thought I deserved a more sympathetic response than, “So what? That’s the kind of stuff you normally wear.” The prize went to a nice lady who dressed as Dennis Rodman. Isn’t there something wrong about a holiday that celebrates Dennis Rodman?

All right, many of my objections would apply to Thanksgiving and Christmas too — at least to what has happened to them. They go on forever, and celebration of them is thought to be obligatory — a sure sign that there’s something wrong. Come to think of it, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day went in that direction long ago. At least Hallowe’en is not an occasion for family guilt. People don’t say, “I wish I’d been kinder to my mom on Hallowe’en,” or “I wish I’d thanked my brother for dressing me up like a corpse.” Not yet they don’t.

Isn’t there something weird about adults celebrating scariness by dressing as French maids or cowboys or Harry Potter?

Maybe one’s feeling about Hallowe’en depends on the category one puts it in. If the category is “let’s have a party,” the feeling is benign. But, irrationally or not, I put Hallowe’en in a different class. I put it in the same box with Hump Day, a day in honor of hating one’s job. That’s the box that also houses hundred-thousand-dollar weddings in Thailand, Christmases honoring children who furnish lists of the presents they want to get, and the relentless multiplication of national observances (9/11, Martin Luther King, Stonewall Riot, the moronic “thank you for your service” workups to Veterans Day). And it seems that no one in America can mark any occasion without overemphasis.

My grandmother told me that when she was a girl, rowdy boys observed Hallowe’en by putting a cow on somebody’s roof. The neighbors enjoyed the spectacle, and the boys were soon identified and “persuaded” to take the cow down. There must have been pretty good roofs in those days, and pretty understanding cows. But Christmas took only a day or two, weddings were accomplished without years of planning, the optimal Hallowe’en decoration was a hand-carved pumpkin — and I doubt that any joy was lost.

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