Pumpkins, Costumes, and Demons

It’s Halloween season! Festivals, hayrides and autumn-themed outings abound out in the country and around town. After a brief attempt to grow pumpkins in our farm garden, I am back to buying them from people who know what they’re doing. Pumpkins need a lot of room to ramble, it turns out. And somehow, the pumpkins we grew a few years ago looked malformed and sad. I’m done trying to grow pumpkins.

I never thought I would say it, but I’m done carving pumpkins, too. I used to love it, getting my hands all slippery sticky with pumpkin guts and devising just the right smirk or scowl for my pumpkin’s personality. But, with no little people in the house, I’m just not feeling it any more. I am officially that older person with ceramic pumpkins on her front porch. Real candles, though. I mean, come on. There has to be some authenticity left.

When I was little and would go trick-or-treating, people like me would make me sad. “Aww,” I would say to myself, all dressed up as Harpo Marx. “Those pitiful people don’t have the Halloween spirit. I hope they’re not passing out pennies or toothbrushes instead of candy.” (For the record, I’m not that lame.)

I do love Halloween, though. And my mother loved Halloween. When I was little, Marge let me have a Halloween party for several years in a row. Every year a dozen or so girls would come all decked out in their best costumes for a mini rager. We would have a drawing contest, which Patty Connelly always won, and a costume contest, which Patty Connelly also always won (that overachieving little cuss). We would have games, bob for apples, and have a gross-out blindfolded feeling contest in which pumpkin innards were human intestines and peeled grapes were eyeballs. Of course, we would also have a séance in which a circle of us were amazed that, using only our fingertips, we were able to elevate a tiny wisp of a girl up above our heads. (Supernatural powers!) It was all good, wholesome fun with just a little bit of gross and spooky.

I remember the year the much-ballyhooed Patty Connelly came dressed as a Tareyton smoker. In the 60’s, this cigarette brand advertised “Us Tareyton smokers would rather fight than switch.” The actors in that campaign depicted people from all walks of life that had painted-on black eyes. Picture a darling little eight-year-old girl in blond pigtails with a black eye and cigarettes rolled up in her sleeve. (Ahhh, the years before the PC culture.) It was pretty clever.

My Halloween parties came to an abrupt end my freshman year in high school when Patty Mullen and her boyfriend came dressed as a priest and a pregnant nun. My ultra religious, super Catholic dad did not find that funny. But, at least it wasn’t gross and bloody.

Somewhere along the line, Halloween has become straight up demonic. What the hell happened? In my mind, it is a holiday to gently spook each other, not terrorize the snot out of children (and me). I just don’t understand the concept of these gruesome haunted houses. Seven Floors of Hell? No thank you. Haunted Forest? I’ll pass. Bloody chain saws? Why? Haunted Maze? I don’t need a maze to be haunted as well as confounding. And don’t even get me started on slasher films. First of all, the victims are always dim-minded, perky breasted, scantily clad adolescent women making bad choices that end up dead. Sorry, that’s not entertainment, that’s misogyny. Secondly, why so gruesome? Can’t they just suggest that someone is getting whacked without spraying the screen with her blood? Take a lesson from Alfred Hitchcock (a misogynist in his own right, but, hey, at least he wasn’t violent). Have a scream with a close up on the eyeball, fade to black. Use your imagination a little.

There is a house around the corner from our real home in the suburbs that is artfully decorated every Halloween, complete with dry ice, music, and shadowy lighting. It’s spooky with witches and skeletons and such, without being gruesome. All the kids in the neighborhood work up the courage to go there and come away thrilled, but not terrorized. I’m fine with that. But I passed a different house the other day that was completely covered with a façade to make it look like a bloody butchery. Fake blood oozed out the windows, chainsaws and body parts were hanging from the trees. I mean, how do you help your kids with homework, cook dinner and live a normal life with a fake, bloody corpse swinging from the tree outside your window? I just don’t get it.

And why is Halloween so sexualized? To quote the movie, Mean Girls, “Halloween is the one night a year when girls can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.” True for adult and even teenage girls. But, parents, have you tried to find a costume for your middle school daughter lately? The trickle down of sexy Halloween costumes is drowning our little girls. When my one of my daughters was in middle school she wanted to be Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Lacking any sewing skills myself, we set off for the Halloween stores in search of a costume. Well, there were plenty of options if I wanted her to look like a little stripper: Vampy Vampire, Nasty Witch, and Slutty Angel, for heaven’s sake. And, of course, Trampy Dorothy with a deep cut top and a veritable doily as a skirt. We bought the blasted costume and I used my meager sewing skills to add about five inches of fabric to the hem and another swath to close up the gap where a blouse should have been. It was maddening, frustrating and sad. “Why can’t my eleven year girl old just dress up, bob for apples, have a séance with friends and not look like a hooker?” I thought.

The world can already be a violent, scary place. Our culture hyper sexualizes everything, including violence. Why do we need to celebrate that?

Frankly, I’d rather switch than fight … or fright, for that matter.