Halloween From A New Perspective
For the longest time I have been telling people that I don’t want to get my son conditioned to participate in the holiday traditions that have morphed into rituals without meaning. The rituals surrounding Halloween are a case in point. Children are conditioned to dress up and go around trick-or-treating for candy without knowing anything about the why or where the tradition comes from. A lot of people might consider trick-or-treating a rite of passage for our children. I was adamant that I wouldn’t participate. But things have a way of changing.
I believe I have an understanding of the roots of the tradition. Cultures celebrated their harvest with a tribute to ancestors. The gourd was used as a vessel to guide the spirits of our ancestors to our homes and a meal was prepared and shared as an offering for their benevolence. It was believed that a family that remembered its ancestors would have good fortune manifesting as a bountiful harvest. And even if the harvest wasn’t very good, it could always be worse. So celebrate anyway.
Somewhere along the line the spirits of the ancestors coming to our homes morphed into a masquerade of children dressing up as goblins and ghouls. A tradition that started off as something to give thanks was turned into something evil. That’s easily understood. Since there are so many of us who don’t consider our ancestors as an integral part of our lives, many of us don’t believe in recognizing their significance in our spiritualistic development, the counterbalance to our materialistic development. We don’t take the time to understand the components that go into our spiritual development. Consequently, anything spiritual has got to be evil because we regularly fear that which we don’t understand. And Halloween has been manipulated to exploit that fear.
But like I said, things change. Now that my son is going to school he participates in the classroom rituals associated with holidays like other children. The Halloween indoctrination process was started the day he walked into the classroom. Like most parents, we want our child to be accepted by his peers. We want him to be part of his most likely social group. When we get a notice from the school that a special activity is being put together and our child’s participation is requested, we’re right there front and center.
About two weeks before Halloween we received such a notice. The children will be dressing up in costumes for a party the Wednesday before Halloween. Like every other parent of children in his classroom, we got an outfit for him to wear. He’s been on a pirate kick lately. He saw an episode of some show aimed at kids and has been hooked (pun intended) on pirates ever since. It was a no brainer for us. The misses went to the Goodwill and got him an old pair of black pants and a red and white striped shirt. We found a red vest for him to wear and found a red sash for him to wear around his waist. We got an eye patch and a pirate hat with skull and crossbones on the very front. We did a dress rehearsal and he looked every bit the scurvy pirate and he loved it.
And then we made the fatal mistake of making him take his outfit off. He got so pissed he didn’t want to put it on again. Ever! When the day of the party came, he refused. Without much time to press the issue, mom simply let him wear his pajamas to school that day. It must’ve been something in the water because half the kids that showed up that day were in pajamas. So he didn’t look out of place and it was no big deal. But that morning was just a harbinger of things to come.
Halloween night was last night. We told his aunts and uncles about his pirate costume and they wanted to see pictures of him in his getup. And just like we wanted our son to participate in the group, as parents we caved into our social expectations of distributing pictures of our child dressed in a costume for a night of trick-or-treating. The boy had to don his pirate costume. Mom knew what was coming because she waited to the very last minute to get him ready. The sun was long gone by then. She took a deep, deep sigh, got up and took the boy to the bedroom to get him dressed.
After about fifteen minutes, they emerged. And he wasn’t even happy. He was crying hysterically in his full pirate regalia minus his hat. He refused to keep it on his head. Mom put it back on and held it there. I got the camera and was ready to take his picture with his mother holding his hat on his head. But before the shutter button could be pressed, he threw himself on the floor. Mom picked him up and put the hat back on his head. He screamed, shook his head violently and threw the hat down. His mother made a promise to that he was going to wear that hat. The image of Scarlet from Gone With the Wind promising that she’d never go hungry again as she stood on Tara plantation popped into my head.
I tried not to laugh. But the two were going at it in full mode World Wrestling Federation style. In between rounds of flailing arms and kicking legs I’d try to get a picture of the two. But as soon as he’d see the camera he’d get a burst of energy and double up on his efforts. After several loud thuds from him throwing himself to the hardwood floor thinly carpeted his mother declared she was through and that he wasn’t going out. She let him go, grabbed her jacket, and the two of us walked out the front door without him.
We stood on the front porch and listened through the door as he let out a banshee wail and ran to the back of the house. We could hear him in the back bedroom. I showed her the pictures I had taken so far. A couple looked really good. But the majority was just blurs that looked like two ethereal entities going toe to toe. She said I could’ve helped her. I told her I couldn’t. I was a wuss and would’ve given up a long time ago. It wasn’t that important. But I had to admit that she really did give it her best shot.
We weren’t out there too long when we heard our son’s crying getting louder and the patter of little feet running to the front of the house. He tried the doorknob but couldn’t quite get the door open in his frustration. We opened it and walked into the house. He was still crying. I was leading the way. He ran right past me to his mother. He threw his arms around her legs, looked up at her, and in between his sobs and gasps for air said that he was sorry. He had his hat in his hands. His mother told him to put his hat on. He complied. With tears still coming down his face we took a picture. He posed for the camera.
The next thing I knew we were out parading up and down the sidewalk doing our own version of trick-or-treat. Both of them deserved it. We got a few snapshots of him walking. But it was so close to his bedtime that he petered out just six houses away from home. We carried him around the block. By the time we made it back to the house he was smiling and happy. And we really got some good photos to share.
As we walked I realized that Halloween wasn’t just for the kids. It was for the parents as well. Not only was it a rite of passage for children as they grow up. It’s a rite of passage for parents as well. Now, I have the photos to show that I’ve been through the Halloween ordeal. All those photos of my brothers and sisters and I from back in the day in our costumes, some of them are photos of us crying while others are of us laughing, I only saw from the perspective of being a kid. Now I can see those photos from the perspective of a parent and it takes on a totally different meaning.
I remember being little and hating the whole Halloween thing. For some reason or another I protested putting on a suit and being humiliated by walking around feeling so ridiculous. But I never thought about how my parents felt. I was too young and immature to see things other than the way I saw it. Thankfully, my parents forced me to go.
And given time, my son will look back at his pirate pictures and understand things from a different perspective as well. One day, he might be preparing my grandson or granddaughter for their future version of this costume infused tradition and come to a better understanding of the hell he put his mother through yesterday. And to be honest, I think we all enjoyed it. We didn’t ring any doorbells. It was way too late for that. We didn’t see any other children out participating in the ritual. It was just the three of us walking around the block. And it was one of the best Halloween ever, especially since the misses and my son did all the work. I just looked on enjoyed the ritual from another perspective.
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