October 31, 2001
Tonight is Hallowe’en. I’m still using the apostrophe, although I am wavering. The punctuation derives from the authentic name of the festival, All Hallows’ Even, elided over many centuries by Anglo-Saxon and Celtic speech patterns to “Halloween.” A Google check today returned 2,150,000 hits without the mark and only 32,600 with (and 6550 had both — I was looking for a discussion of why there should or should not be an apostrophe, but the hits on the first page looked as if they were just places that didn’t care much about consistency.)
The October issue of American Heritage has a nice article about Hallowe’en’s history and its transformation from an adult celebration to a children’s holiday and now, some say, back again. It began as a harvest festival of the ancient Celts, got hooked up with Roman homages to Pomona (whose symbol is the apple) and then sanitized by the Christians into All Saints’ Day. It collided with Guy Fawkes Day in England, and became a courting ritual for both rural and urban Victorians. Adapting it for children is pretty much a post-World War II American phenomenon, an effort by candy makers to promote their wares.
And of course, a lot of candy is needed for “Trick or Treat,” that ritual by which youngsters travel from house to house demanding chocolate bars as protection payment against threats of mischief such as soaped windows or rearranged mailbox letters (the only Hallowe’en prank I ever pulled). When I was very small my father’s students came to the house and the idea was that they would do a trick — sing a song or recite a poem or do a little dance — and we would give them a treat. While I was growing up Trick or Treat was done on Hallowe’en night itself, and sometimes two or three or even four nights before. My Catholic school was closed the next day, All Saints’ Day, and I was usually home alone to gorge myself on the Mary Janes and Walnettos and Sky Bars I’d collected.
That’s why most municipalities around here, amid growing concern about safety and sanity, decreed that Trick or Treat should always be the fourth Thursday of October, from 6:00 to 8:00 only.
Whatever spirits are about these days (possibly the few positive ones unleashed by September 11) motivated me finally to take up a project that has languished for far too long — finally getting sixteen years’ worth (and that’s just Lynn’s life!) of pictures and memorabilia out of the drawers and cardboard boxes where they are haphazardly stashed and mounted in archival quality scrapbooks with explanatory text and colorful decorative stickers.
Advice from the memory book industry is to start where you are and work backwards, or to forget chronological order altogether. I compromised, made calendar pages for November 2001 which include the week beginning October 28, and then went through every nook and cranny searching out pictures from Hallowe’ens past.
The best costumes Lynn ever had were the ones I made. In 1988, when she was three, I turned her into a California Raisin, complete with turquoise sneakers that were three sizes too big and a Radio Shack microphone. The next year it was Minnie Mouse, a costume so popular that three younger girls in the neighborhood eventually wore it. And finally, when she was five, she became Dorothy of Oz, with ruby slippers and Toto too in a little basket.Then I went back to graduate school, and for a few years we had store-bought costumes. And suddenly, when she was ten, she outgrew Hallowe’en. Now it is she who sits on the porch and passes out candy to the kids who still come, many fewer now that the Baby Boomlet she was part of have their driver’s permits.
I don’t miss the yearly ritual of choosing and assembling a costume. But I did enjoy the reminiscing as I flipped through the photos, chose the ones I wanted to use, scanned and manipulated them, mounted them in a memory book. And the thing I noticed most was how her face is so full of light and joy, picture after picture, from infancy through middle school. And that’s something I still have.