old halloween

In Adam’s class this week, they are working on nursery rhymes – Adam now knows that Humpty Dumpty fell off a wall, although, like the rest of us, he is rather foggy about who put him, or failed to put him, together again. He much prefers, at that point in the tale to go back to the wall – Humpty dumpty fell off a wall, humpty dumpty had a great fall, humpty fell off a WALL, daddy! I’m glad to see that my son already knows that you don’t bury your lede.
However, they are also learning about ghosts. And every day, when I come to pick him up, I see more orange and black in the room.
Yesterday, A. taught him about Jack o lanterns. It was A.’s first Jack o Lantern too, but she did a bang up job.
All of this has made me think about the Halloween mission creep.
When I was a kid (says Grandfather Simpson)… when I was a kid, Halloween was pretty firmly a children’s holiday. You could tell the kids who couldn’t let go when they’d appear, heads taller than the rest of the crowd, begging for treats. Those were the kids whose parents were always being called into conferences with their teachers; those were the kids with the bully problem, either doing it themselves or receiving it.
Time marches on, in big black leather boots, right over my face, in fact. At some point Halloween became a teen and then a college student party day. Les fetes des masques nous manquent – Martin Luther killed carnival, the rat bastard. So it makes sense that something like Halloween would emerge from a culture still ruled by a Protestant elite but increasingly Catholic. This is a good thing.
It also makes sense that the dead time between the end of summer break and Thanksgiving is a long, long time. The day dwindles, and all we do is work – that can’t be right! Halloween has started to fill that space.
What disturbs me, however, is that as the grocery stores start to stock up on Halloween a month before the day happens, and the decorations turn macabre (in a commercially approved way) on October 1st, something of the holiday spirit goes out of it. It was, commercially speaking, small change –and now commerce has infected it with the usual malign effects. We speak of the “market” in very abstract terms. In fact, small markets like those that used to supply candy and costumes for Halloween did differ in their culture from the large markets that take over the logistics of holiday enjoyment, sexing up the costumes, making the scares an adjunct to the latest slasher series. I’m just grateful they’ve left us the pumpkins.

When the pumpkins are replaced, I will be very sad. It will be something like Jack o IPAD, and their will be Intellectual Property rights. Oh Oh Oh.