Thursday, 31 October 2013

Woot! Candy Day!

The Historical House has been turned into a professional Haunted House for the day, so just in case I will apply to the parish priest tomorrow for some holy water so we can give the flat a good sprinkle. But meanwhile I have carved my annual I-Loved-Halloween-When-I-Was-a-Kid jack o'lantern and put it in the dining-room window, which is round and therefore extremely cool even without a jack o'lantern.

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.


Urszula said...

Reese's pieces are my favorite too!!!

I grew up in the US and always had fun at Halloween. Even when my parents were going through a super-conservative phase, they had us go to the Catholic "All Saints parties" dressed up as saints but then we could always trick or treat as everybody else did. I most liked trick or treating when my youngest siblings were young, they got so much joy out of it and I got in on the fun as well :)

There's a thing going among my Polish friends on facebook, urging people to swap their profile photos for their patron saints for the day. It's a pretty cool idea in that it can inspire you to find out more about your patron saint - I had no idea there were so many awesome paintings of St. Ursula!

Pearlmusic said...

Oh, yes, the Polish All Saints action on Facebook - great idea, I also took part in it! This action aims omostly to remind people of the difference between All Saints (1st November) and the traditional Zaduszki (All Souls Day) on 2nd November.

Also, our local archbishop wrote a letter to his Church about the spiritual danger of Halloween. I wonder if Halloween is really that bad or if banning it from Polish Church is just a sign of fear of a foreign tradition.

Anamaria Biddick said...

Reese's! Almond Joy!

Our parish is in a neighborhood that is known for its Halloween decorations. Our new priest's reaction? To say from the pulpit last Sunday, "Some people seem to think that Halloween is not a Christian holiday, and that we shouldn't celebrate it. In fact, it is the eve before All Saints' and All Souls' Day, to get all the ghoulish things to come out before we celebrate those days. It is important to know some history. Anyway, you all are invited to a pre-trick or treating hot dog dinner at 5. Mass on Friday is at 9:30 and 6. Mass on Saturday is at 10 am and we have...."

He was really quite annoyed about it, to the extent that we were cracking up at it.

Anonymous said...

I loved Halloween as a kid, and, like you, it was all about dressing up as amazing things (for some reason there are no scary costumes at all in my memories, and the whole goal was to have the most astonishingly CLEVER costume, so being a boring witch/whatever was right out. The bunch of grapes using balloons was a winner.) and lots of amazing candy-treasure. So many kinds, never before seen. As I got older it was a great 'once a year meet all your neighbours' exercise. My favorite candy was Smarties (american kind).


MichelleMarie said...

Rocket candies all the way! They're tiny capsules of intense goodness :)

Halloween is not anti-religion at all. It's a actually a mostly American mish-mash of Catholic/Protestant/folklore traditions.

It's just a day to dress up and have a little fun (especially for kids) - masquerades are not anti-Catholic, are they? Whenever I went out trick or treating as a kid, I remember the pleasant chill of mild fear at being out at night, with all these people in costumes -- and then relief at being back at my warm, lit house afterwards categorizing my candy. The mild spookiness of the night made me thankful for warmth and light - I think we as humans need a little bit of scaring to remind us that there is an unseen world, and even though there are dark forces working against us, with God there is no need to fear the night.

I think people do get out of hand sometimes with the morbid stuff (i.e. hanging a dummy by a noose in their front yard) but that's an opportunity to start a conversation, not go to the extreme in banning Halloween altogether.

And All Saints day and Halloween are not mutually exclusive! We as a family have always celebrated both, and they complement each other rather nicely!

Bernadette said...

My parents were unfortunately of the American Halloween Is A Thin Disguise for Witchcraft and Eeeeevil school. So we were strictly forbidden from any sort of trick or treating whatsoever. I went trick or treating for the first time when I was 21. Some friends found out I'd never been, promptly plopped a witch's hat on my head, and made me go out with them. It was fun, but I was too old for it to be a beloved part of my childhood.

Ironically, one of the things I absolutely adore about Halloween is handing out candy to little kids. I admire the little girls in their princess costumes, and pretend to be scared of the monsters, and have the pirates show me their swords, and generally have a marvelous time. I'm feeling sad today because I assumed that Trick or Treating night this year would be actually on Halloween, and was planning on picking up candy on my way home from work today. However, last night I found out it was actually on the 30th this year when some neighborhood kids with elaborate face makeup knocked on my door demanding candy, and I had none in the house to give them. (Oh, the shame!)

Seraphic said...

Bernadette, that's odd. It makes much more sense that Hallowe'en would be celebrated on a FRIDAY night then on a Thursday night in any town. Are you sure it wasn't kids playing a prank?

Heather in Toronto said...

Oh, the Tootsie Rolls. Those were the best.

I spent most of my childhood in Edmonton, Alberta, where you sometimes ended up with two costumes. One real one for parties and such, and one that was something you could throw on over a snowsuit, because chances are it would be at least -10C for trick or treating!

And I was Protestant at the time, so no All Saints costumes.

We were hardcore trick or treaters. We'd go out with a pillowcase, go round the block on one side of th street, back home to warm up and dump loot, then out again to get the houses on the other side.

The candy got divided evenly between me and my sister, and it would go into the closet where it would then last us until at least Christmas. By which point all that was left were those little flat lollipops, some chalk-flavoured chewing gum, and that weird taffy covered in orange and black paper.

Now Halloween may be Candy Day for the kids, but for grownups, Candy Day is Nov 1, just like Feb 15 is Chocolate Day. When all the seasonal goodies go on clearance. Yum.

Brigid said...

Reese's, and anything gummy.

Today I'm going to a movie night dressed as a philosofairy godmother. I have wings made from a book, a wee paper crown, a stack of groan-worthy philosophy jokes, and a wand with a sparkly Socrates on it.

Domestic Diva said...

Seraphic, as I was reading this I felt like you were reading my mind. Ditto to everything except that I was in the US, my trade-around costumes included a flapper, a square dancer, and Tigger, and my candy only lasted until Nov. 3 no matter how hard my mom tried to ration it.

Thank you for articulating the lighter side of Halloween. I always learned that the "spooks" were really just the saints (canonized or not) that we remembered the night before All Saints Day. Yes, there were ugly pranks (eg - toilet paper in trees) but those were always from teens who had nothing better to do. I never knew of anything remotely satanic about the holiday.

Jackie said...

Reese's, YUM! And the occasional 3 Musketeer, double yum!

And the moment of anticipation as you dump your bag of candy out on the floor to tally up your loot... the best. :-)

Laika said...

Am I the only person who loved the orange-and-black toffee?

Jam said...

Seraphic/Bernadette -- some communities now designate set times for different neighborhoods to do trick or treating. So for instance my neighborhood in Chicago did it last Saturday, and the Village Council where my parents live set up an official time each year, usually ending early in the evening (say 8pm). I'm not entirely sure why; I would guess there's some kind of safety rationale, but I agree it's confusing. Plus then if your parents are cool parents they'll load you up in the minivan and take you around to different neighborhoods for their trick-or-treating times... I remember when I was a kid how we'd turn off all the lights and sit quietly on the living room floor when we'd run out of candy so the kids would think we weren't home!

Laika - I love those! A really rare treat for me were Bottle Caps, yum.

Heather in Toronto said...

Oh, the orange and black taffee wasn't so bad for the first little while. Molasses flavoured, I think. But I seem to recall it going stale quickly, and once it went stale it was hard as a rock and roughly as appetizing.

Every so often you got the houses that gave out full sized chocolate bars, not the dinky little "fun size" versions. That was a special treat.

Lydia Cubbedge said...

Due to an unfortunate stint in a rather fundamentalist milieu my first Halloween was when I was nine in our small New England town. My mom had had enough of the fundy stuff, so she sewed a tiger costume for me and sent me out with my friends. I really think there is no better place for trick or treating than small town Massachusetts.

I think this year Hershey miniatures are my favorite, but Tootsie Pops are a close second.

Urszula said...

I chanced upon this article today and thought it very relevant to our discussion:

Pearlmusic said...

Argh, girls! I took part in Facebook "Saint" profile photo swap and now feel terrible, because I learned only now that the action Urszula mentioned aims not as much at commemorating the Saints but it was designed to be all against Halloween! What annoys me is that I didn't mean to be against ANYBODY or ANYONE just by showing that I want my Holy Patron to be remembered!

Elizabeth said...

I loved Halloween too (although I hated scary/gory costumes that pre-teen boys tend to love). I liked the orange and black wrapped molasses toffees too. You did have to eat them quickly though!

My memories of Halloween are dressing up and walking through the neighborhood with friends and our dads, while our moms stayed at home to hand out candy and take pictures. There was one house which was known as the witch's house by the neighborhood kids. Some older adults lived there and I can't recall seeing them at any other time of the year. Their yard was covered in ivy and filled with lots of trees and the woman who lived there dressed up as a witch (Wizard of Oz style) every year. It was very convincing without being too scary (I always told myself that if it was real, my dad wouldn't take us there) and now it is a great memory from childhood.

Sean McCann said...

At my elementary school, the sixth graders had the privilege of turning the auditorium into a haunted house for the other kids. How glorious it was when my turn came at the top of the food chain... I and two of my friends set up a cauldron with dry ice, dressed as witches and offered the kids "toenails" (corn kernels in a jar), "dried blood" (salt with red food coloring) and other goodies.

Some years I started planning my costume in August. One year I decided to be the "Queen of Candy" and made myself jewelry out of Pez. In middle school I was the Dread Pirate Roberts, and I went around with an actual knife in my sash.

After we finished trick-or-treating, we would head over to my grandma's house where she (sporting her own costume) would have cake and cider and other goodies. The cousins would be there as well, and we would all swap candy. I liked sour candy best - Nerds, Blow Pops, Gobstoppers if I could get them. There was a kind of caramel-apple lollipop that I liked very much as well. All of my peanut candy went to other kids.

Fortunately, anti-Halloween Catholics are a tiny minority.

Sheila said...

My favorite part was always pumpkin carving. We started out with basic triangle noses and eyes, but by the time I was a preteen we bought patterns with Garfield or haunted houses on them, and then as a teenager I freehanded them. My best pumpkin was in college, for a contest: the Seattle skyline. Unfortunately I carved it too far in advance and it got all dried out by the day of the judging.

My favorite candies were Reeses, Three Musketeers, and Milky Way. Least favorite were candy corn, hard candy, those cube-shaped caramels, and yes, the molasses toffee. My brother and I would trade -- I didn't like Snickers, so that put me at a great advantage.

I was a very frugal kid even then, so I made my Halloween candy last till Christmas, my Christmas candy last till Easter, my Easter candy last till my birthday, and birthday candy last till Halloween again. One piece a day, usually. Sometimes I ran out mid-summer though. Since there was never any candy except those holidays, I had to be careful or I would have to face a day without candy!

Meredith said...

Oops, that was me, Meredith, not my husband Sean. Wrong account.