Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Weekend Assignment #242: Austerity Halloween

For Weekend Assignment #242: How Do You Do Halloween? I asked,

Weekend Assignment # 341: How Do You Do Halloween?
Each year at this time, we are told that Halloween is second only to Christmas in its commercial impact. Once an amalgam of religious holidays, it has grown over the years, at least in the U.S., and it's not just for children as it may have been half a century ago. What, if anything, do you personally do to celebrate Halloween? Have you ever participated in an alternative or related holiday, such as the Dias de Los Muertos, Samhain, a church Harvest Festival, etc.?

Extra Credit: What was the last Halloween costume you wore, and when?
It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Halloween. Most years, I try to do something amazing by way of themed Halloween decor outside our front door, and dress up in different (albeit rotating) costumes ear year. I also hand out what are probably the best treats in the neighborhood - multiple pieces of candy plus little toys such as spider rings and baseball cards and fake pirate gold. John is with me in principle, and helps to find toys for the little bags I prepare. Kazoos and glow in the dark lizards, glittery pencils and balloons and jumping spiders were all among this year's offerings. Sometimes he'll carve a jack-o-lantern for me, if we do one at all instead of relying on our reusable electric ones. Occasionally he'll help me string a light, or will play a sound effect on his computer as kids approach. Generally, though, I'm the one who does 90% of the work. I don't mind, exactly, but I'm often frustrated that my efforts nearly always fall short of my aspirations.

This year's Halloween was especially difficult. John has been working seven day weeks to make up for my severe underemployment, so he wasn't around on Sunday to help me set up. Even if he had been, we both knew it would be foolish to spend money on more Halloween decor to add to what we already have from past years. What we had on hand was what I had to work with.

But I had a plan. In going through boxes to get rid of stuff we don't need, mostly by donating it to the rummage, book and collectibles sales at St. Michael's English Faire, I'd come across some old curtains of John's. They date back to before I met him, and I don't think I've ever seen them hanging; but I love them anyway. They are black velvet with red braided trim, very Gothic and occult. So the plan was, I would dig out these curtains and hang them at the end of the alcove outside our front door. I would thus be concealed inside the alcove, hiding behind the curtains like the Phantom of Calle Mumble. When kids came by, I would reach through the curtain with one monstrous hand, and give them their treat bag. I had skeleton gloves and I think werewolf gloves I could use. Or maybe I would just paint my hands a ghostly white.

Sounds pretty good, huh? And it wouldn't cost me a thing except for the toys and candy and treat bags. But John had a further idea to add to the fun. He wanted me to put up a sign telling kids to scream for their candy. I thought it over and wrote an eight line poem to convey this message. John said it needed to be half that long, so I ended up with

This year, dare to play a game
With the ghoul that has no name.
If you want to get a treat,
Scream out loud and stomp your feet!

I printed out my poem and posted it on the alcove wall, but it was hard to do so in such a way that all the words were visible. It doesn't matter, though. I think only one person read the sign all night.

And the black curtains refused to turn up again, however hard I searched. And anyway, how was I to hang them? Buy a curtain rod? Drive nails into the flimsy walls and hang a rope? Reluctantly, I decided to buy either cheap beaded curtains or crepe paper streamer curtains. When I couldn't find those, I settled for Mylar fringe, which blew in the wind and started to tear apart before they were even hung. Two three-footers were barely adequate to cover half of the width I needed, doubled up. For the other half, I used glittery purple fabric I bought years ago for a wizard costume I never made. To hang it I simply folded it once and wrapped it around a board that I managed to shove onto the roof.

It wasn't the most successful decor ever; in fact it was decidedly shoddy. But like Linus's pumpkin patch, it was sincere. I spent three and a half hours out there, putting together treat bags and handing them out, and reading Doctor Who books in between. At least one box of Halloween stuff didn't turn up, so I didn't have my ghoul mask or my werewolf/sort-of-tengrem mask or the hairy bulging eye one, or any monster gloves. So I settled for my fringed black shawl and no mask or makeup at all. I just shoved my hand through the fringe curtain, treat bag and all. The battery was dead on my old laptop and my DVD player was at church, so I didn't have music or sound effects. The effect was considerably less spooky than I had hoped! The good news was that the Assembly of God church across Wilmot from us didn't have their Harvest Festival to compete with Halloween this year. That meant that we had a decent turnout, including quite a few kids arriving by car from other neighborhoods.

Last year I made a wizard's study, wore the purple cloth as a cape and put on a wizard's beard, or possibly the one mask that I did manage to find this year but did not wear.  I had real occult books and fake potions. And by the way, I injured my shoulder tripping as I carried my chair outside. Another year I had a spooky forest, with spiders and snakes as well as my squeaky plastic rats. There was a year in which I made and wore a Tiki mask to go with the two Tikis we still have on display out there. Still another year we had a Styrofoam graveyard, and twice we had Black Rose Kate come to visit, pirate flag and all. But this year was our make-do Halloween, and I think I'm the only one who was really disappointed. 65 kids still got their bounteous bag of treats, which they dropped in their bags with out without a "Thank you," and probably never knew which house was the one that was extra-generous. 

That's all right. Next year will be different. Next year I'll really show 'em a Halloween house! Aside from certain music and some minimal celebration of All Souls' Day, this is what Halloween is to me.


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