“From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!”
~ Traditional Scottish Prayer
I love Halloween. Loved it since I was a kid.
Those of you who grew up in the small-town South probably had similar experiences. In my village Halloween was given over to the children. The night was ours. We roamed the streets in small bands, moving from house to house in a relentless search for sweet things to eat, which we were given after the threat of harm to person and property. After we ransacked the neighborhoods we headed downtown where we took Ivory Soap and marked up the windows of local businesses.
It was good harmless fun. We only went to houses where we knew there would be treats, so there were seldom tricks. Occasionally we would put someone’s lawn furniture in another person’s yard, but that was about it. The food we got was usually homemade, and some of us became experts at knowing whose cookies had more chocolate chips – those houses we hit early.
Costumes were homemade as well, which is why ghosts (a sheet), tramps (old clothes) and some sort of ghoul (lipstick for blood) were the most popular. The big kids would scare the little kids, the boys would scare the girls (who really weren’t scared at all), and one parent dressed up like a hunchback and scared everyone who came to the door.
Then the next day storeowners washed their windows – the soap was already there – the tricked recovered their property, and everything went back to normal.
But no more.
Adults have taken over Halloween. Not only that, they have done what adults always do: they have commercialized it.
In August catalogs begin to arrive, loaded with all sorts of costumes, and though many of the outfits are for the kids, adults are the main target. And it works, for as any marketer will tell you, more costumes are sold to big folks than bought for children, and the selection you find in catalogs and stores reflect the Halloween fantasies of this group.
(A couple of years ago a friend of mine pondered buying his wife an “Elvira, Mistress of the Dark” outfit, but the woman to whom he promised to cleave only to had a cleavage problem so ponder was all he did – others can profit from his example.)
It’s not just the way adults have commercialized Halloween for themselves that gets to me. Some adults seem bound and determined to take the fun out of what’s left over for the kids.
And what is fun about Halloween?
Getting the bejeezes scared out of you.
And by what?
Things that go bump in the night.
Now I do not want to get into an argument over the religious connotations of Halloween, All Hallows Eve, or whatever you want to call it. There are people who, for good and proper reasons, do not want their children dressing up like and pretending to be ghoulies and ghosties and things like that. Fine with me. And there are churches that put on “alternative Halloweens” where kids are costumed like characters from the Bible. I am OK with that as well.
But I can’t help remembering how much fun I had dressed as some sort of a demon, surrounded by friends dressed like other sorts of demons – one of them, as I recall, was the son of a prominent Baptist deacon. And looking at those friends today, I find no evidence that the experience deranged us any more than we were deranged already.
(OK, one of our gang became a Methodist minister. Maybe I should ask him if this career decision was in response to any Satanic influences felt during those dark nights when we went out in pursuit of cookies and candies and apples on stickies.)
On the other hand, if the Bible character idea catches on, you can bet that adults will take it from the kids. Then the economic opportunists will move in. And the next August a new catalog will arrive. In it will be a Biblical bonanza of costumes that will appeal to grownups’ natural desire to stay on the right side of the Lord with their equally natural desire to treat Halloween as an opportunity to play out all sort of adult idiosyncrasies incognito.
There would be a David costume, complete with slingshot and a dead Goliath doll to drag around. Or maybe Samson, with a bloody jawbone of an ass. And for the daring there would be Salome, complete with velcroed veils for easy peeling.
I sure hope it never comes to that.
Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.