Thursday, 31 October 2013
Woot! Candy Day!
Okay, I know I wrote last year about how Polish All Saints made me feel ashamed of Canadian Halloween, and I know I wrote this year about how Polish All Saints is all that minus a tiny bag of chips. But still I loved Halloween like crazy when I was a kid, and never thought it was either for religion or against religion or had to do with anything except make-believe, fun scary stuff, and candy.
I remember in some detail my last ever childhood Halloween when I (having just had my hair buzzed off in an extreme attempt to escape it) dressed up as a The Outsiders-style tough guy and went to my friend's house where we watched Carrie. Out of respect for My Nerves, I don't often watch horror movies, so Carrie scared me out of my wits. Ironically, before my shearing, I had hair exactly like Carrie's mother, oh woe. (And I would look entirely like Carrie's Mother now had I not just been to the hairdresser.)
My first ever childhood Halloween occurred when I was four, and I was either "the white fairy" or "the fat green fairy." (Costume themes got recycled from sibling to sibling.) Both costumes involved my mother's discarded baby-doll negligees which, now that I am a married lady, strikes me as amusing. The fat of the fat green fairy was either puppy fat or the heavy sweaters under our costumes. The end of October in eastern Canada is rather cold.
Oh! The thrill of going out into the cold and dark without a coat to get candy from the neighbours! My mother watched us from the sidewalk for the first few years, but eventually I was put in charge. I led my little army up stairs, past glowing pumpkins, to get our swag. For a few years we had UNICEF boxes tied to our baskets to collect pennies, too, but then the Catholic schools stopped managing them, for reasons not explained to us, and no wonder. But really it was so much fun, and I was so mad the first time, now a teenager, I led children to a door opened by a man who looked at us like we were crazy and said, in the local Canadian accent, so immigration was no excuse, that Halloween was not part of his religion.
Well, as I said in the CR this week, Halloween is not part of my religion, but neither is ruining the fun of little children. What I think is fantastic and fine about North American Halloween is that all children of whatever religion or ethnicity or national origin can dress up in costumes and march around town to get candy. They don't even have to speak a word of English. They don't have to say "Trick or treat". Prodded by bowing, grinning New Immigrant parents, they can stand mutely in front of the door, staring with their mouths wide open as Canadian Lady drops candy in their bag or basket.
This ceases between 8 and 9 PM in my parents' neighbourhood because the little children need to go to bed and the Big Kids, e.g. the 14 year olds who have no business being out there, turn up without costumes and demand candy with their newly adult voices. Incidentally, parents and older siblings are necessary to discourage the Big Kids from stealing the Litle Kids' candy. What a world! But it was like that in the 1970s, too, complete with smashed jack o'lanterns. Rogues!
But The Big Kids are a headache from my teenage and adult manning-the-door days. They form no part of my proper childhood Halloween memories, which were uniformly wonderful. A large part of the thrill was that we were not allowed candy at any other time of the year, except at Christmas and at birthday parties. (Christmas involved peppermint and birthdays largely meant jelly beans and gumdrops, all of which I do not eat today.) To come home with a brimming apple basket of candy and pour it on the floor so that my mother could check it for poison and razor blades--'cause you never know--was a delightful overturning of the natural order of things, a children's Carnival.
The candy lasted for weeks because my mother shelved the baskets way up high, doling out treats to go in our lunch bags or as after school snacks or as dinner dessert. We got to pick what we wanted, and I picked what I liked best in descending order, which left me with those waxy orange paper-wrapped molasses toffees at the end. My absolute favourite was the Reese's peanut butter cups. (Ever buying Reese's peanut butter cups for myself was a distant dream.) Anything chocolate was good, and so were the tiny bags of potato chips.
I suppose the moral of the story is that my mother's strict no-candy-without-a-very-good-reason policy made Halloween all the more special, in the way the family Christmas chelsea bun is all the more special for its sole annual appearance. But really I want the moral to be that Halloween is not about Satanic practices or witchcraft or sexually provocative costumes or any of that stuff--at least not as far as children are concerned. Naturally I do not advocate Halloween for Poland--I hate signs of European Americanization--but I think it fine for Canada and the USA. If Catholic parents want to stress the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, then I recommend visiting family graveyards on those days, as the Poles do, and having delicious dinners afterwards in honour of the beloved dead. On All Saints, the family could sit down together and watch films about saints, and on All Souls, the family could watch old family videos.
In short, instead of isolating Catholic Canadian and American children from what is for children an innocent and dearly loved festival, Catholic parents could follow it up with intentional celebration of the two holy days that follow.
Now, readers who grew up with Halloween are invited in the combox to tell me what their favourite candies were.