Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Night Before Hallowmas

Ah, Halloween, also called Hallowe'en, a perfect holiday of my childhood, existing as it did in a temporal bubble of relatively new neighborhoods filled with families with young children, of home-made costumes (devils, one year, Uncle Sams, the next (thanks Mom!)) of real candy bars before the bite-sized mass-packs. It is still like that, in many places, but increasingly its a party for the young 'uns elsewhere while us oldsters glut ourselves in the undelivered candy. Even though we have a lot more neighbors with the various housing developments going up all around us, few come down the dark, shadowy gravel driveway to that house far from the street.

Little did I know as a child that my experience was a transient phenomena, something that belonged to a particular part of America. Halloween, Hallowed Eve, the night before All Hallows Day or Hallowmas, wasn't all that big a thing before the 1950s. Our nation's early holiday-free years were absent of the day entirely, but with the arrivals of strong Irish imigration in the 1850s and Scottish in the 1970s, the holiday took root (it traces its origins to pagan celebrations co-opted by the church). Even then, for a hundred years it was more of a social gathering sort of thing as opposed to the house-to-house search for jumbo Snickers bars. According to the wikipedia it was more a case of Scots pride, much as Italian Americans use Columbus Day, Irish Americans have St. Patrick's, and Mexican Americans are increasingly using Cinqo de Mayo to celebrate their heritage.

And then, with the post-war baby boom and more disposable income, things changed. More costumes, more candy, more of a neighborhood adventure. One parent would man the door, the other (or an elder sibling) would take the youngsters. It was about the kids, but also a chance for the adults to visit, within the limitations of the patience of a small child hopped up on chocolate.

Since then, we've drifted a little. There are more local parties, in particular ones hosted at schools, in the daytime. Its a bit of nostalgia for the cool autumn nights, the houses with real pumpkins carved in front, the small ghosts, goblins, and princesses moving alonside their chaparones. Not for a time that never was, but for a time that existed only briefly, at a confluence of greater societal forces, and then continued to evolve.

More later,