October 31, 2013

Halloween round-up

I won't repeat what I've said before when covering the changing nature of Halloween over the last 20 years, and you can search this blog for "Halloween" to find what's already been said.

It sounds odd to write a "round-up" of Halloween even though as I write this it's only 2am the morning of. But a major shift in how we celebrate holidays these days is in stretching them out from a concentrated day into a diluted period or season. The day and night of will feel anti-climactic because we saw signs of its presence coming a mile away, weeks ahead of time.

And it feels like everything there is to do about Halloween has already been done -- and for awhile now. It's like spoiling your appetite for what's supposed to be a special meal, like munching on Hot Pockets and ramen noodles all throughout the morning and afternoon of Thanksgiving. Or putting up birthday decorations two weeks early and singing "Happy Birthday" every day for weeks ahead of time.

Put simply, we are a culture that has become awkward with feeling anticipation, release, and winding down. We have made the intensity level constant or flat over time, never reaching the intended peak level, and extending over a longer time. This allows us to still make a token display of participating in the holiday spirit, without actually going on the roller-coaster ride. Nobody wants to feel swept up in the holiday spirit, because that means loss of control, and a constantly self-monitoring person would die of fright if their internal security camera were shut off for just one day while they allowed themselves to get lost in the festivities.

It seems like a fait accompli that the parties now take place, not on Halloween night, but the Saturday before. Why? Well, what if like most years it falls on a work day or a school night? The consequences would be dire. Up-ending our routine for even one day is anathema to an OCD society. We're not saying you can't get dressed up and go party -- just make sure it doesn't interfere with your rat race routine. It neuters Halloween of its intended carnivalesque inversion of ordinary social structure.

How fun do you think it will be to celebrate with a bunch of people who are too timid to party on a week night? I didn't even bother this year, for the first time in awhile.

I did, however, carve two jack-o-lanterns, something I haven't done in years. There have been many changes in this tradition as well, reflecting the same themes as elsewhere in Halloween culture. Three examples:

- The pumpkin piles are out at retail stores way early, and they show up on porches way early. While strolling around the neighborhood last Saturday, I saw some that showed signs of decay suggesting they'd been out for a week -- and this was still roughly one week before Halloween. This deflates the spectacle on Halloween itself, by making us accustomed to their presence weeks ahead of time.

My vague memories were that in the '80s, we carved them the night before, not many days or weeks before. So I searched Google Images for Halloween pictures from the '80s, and the ones with jack-o-lanterns all show ones that are more or less freshly carved -- no puckering, no dulling of the yellowish color inside, and so on. Examples: here, here, here. The last one has a date stamped on it, 10/29, and they look newly carved. So maybe a few days before at the most.

- At least around here, maybe 1/3 of all pumpkins on display were uncarved, unpainted, unadorned in any way. It only takes less than 30 minutes to carve, and everyone has at least that much screw-off time in their day. It's part of the move away from supernatural and superstitious fun, and toward the mundane and naturalistic. More in the vein of "harvest spice granola latte" than mask-wearing and candle-lighting.

- A good fraction, under one-half, of carved pumpkins were made with a cookie-cutter stencil. OCD folks just can't handle anything other than the paint-by-numbers approach to arts and crafts, can they? Stencils also allow for more elaborate and often pretentious designs, tying into the individualistic status contests that now run rampant around the holiday. How long before they become like tattoos -- choosing the perfectly unique stencil to tell the world about your special snowflake lifestyle? Jack-o-lanterns by Banksy? These were in the minority, though.

Does the absence of parental supervision that we all remember show up in those old pictures? I couldn't put my finger on it at first, but do an image search for Halloween and some specific year. Notice how all the pictures are taken inside the house, on the front porch / driveway, or front yard. That's because the parents weren't following them around once they got to the sidewalk, hence no pictures of kids at someone else's house. Only before they left and when they got back home, where the parents stayed put. Examples: here, here, here.

Recent pictures do show trick-or-treaters at someone else's doorstep, typically shot from the height of a grown-up, providing photographic proof of how closely parents hover over their kids even on a holiday where they're supposed to be allowed temporary freedom. Examples: herehere, here, here.

It's not uncommon to see scenes where the grown-up to kid ratio is even, or perhaps where the grown-ups outnumber the kids. Like this one. Also, unlike pictures from the '80s, recent ones are more likely to be taken earlier in the day before it gets dark, spoiling their fun even more.

As the last picture shows, helicopter parents may not trust any of their own neighbors, but they are more comfortable trick-or-treating in an institutionally controlled setting -- a business district, a mall, a zoo, and so on. Some place where there's a management team planning, coordinating, and supervising everything (in addition to parental hand-holding).

Did you notice how unpretentious the costumes were in the '80s? There isn't much to "get" about them, and they aren't meticulously detailed. They're supposed to be nondescript so that you can easily melt into the crowd, losing your individuality and stepping into a different role. Costumes now are much more thought-out, fussed-over, and attention-grabbing -- like this poor kid whose parents made him into an iPhone. (He sure looks excited.) This produces the opposite result -- the kid is too aware of how on-display he is that he can't forget himself and join the mob. It's more of a fashion show.

The tradition of trick-or-treating must be nearing a low point when there are people like this woman who will be handing out a condescending lecture note to those children who she judges to be too overweight to deserve candy on Halloween. She bald-facedly tries to rationalize her slap-in-the-face behavior as good for the community. She's done with helicopter parenting her own kids, now it's time to ruin the fun of everyone else's too. No surprise that it's in North Dakota. Damn Scandinavians place nanny-ism over community cohesion. I hope there are some adults nearby with enough honor to find out where this rude bitch lives and go egg her house, smash pumpkins on her driveway, and TP her trees.

And the damn liberals reporting on this, or weighing in from her neck of the woods, can only frame the matter in terms of health, harm, self-esteem, etc. How about being a disrespectful host to her guests, threatening the sense of togetherness in the community? Like, what did she hand out as party favors for her kids' birthdays? -- notes that read, "Sorry, but in my judgement your child is nearing obesity, and did not need to share in the birthday cake which would only worsen his health condition. Step up your game as a parent, and next year he can share in the cake with the others." Someone please find this condescending crone and give her a good slap across the face.

My prediction for number of trick-or-treaters tonight -- no more than 5 children in no more than 2 separate groups, and perhaps one group of less than 5 adolescents.

Any other major changes I've overlooked?


  1. Once again you're reading my mind! I love the Halloween posts as they really bring back my youth. I have to admit I'm just as guilty as anyone in dragging the holidays out...hell I was looking forward to Halloween since mid-September. But I guess it's my way of re-living the late 80s and early 90s, that glorious time. I'll be working my second job tonight, so I'll definitely be observing what I can there.

    One thing I've noticed is the strict time frame that communities post for Trick-or-Treating. 6-8 seems to be the most common time here, but in my town, I saw it's 5:30-7:30! Not sure I'm down with such a small and early window of time. It felt like I was out a little later than that as a child, but I could be wrong.

    And what's up with making Trick-or-Treat times on an earlier day? Like if Halloween is on a Sunday, I've seen it where Trick-or-Treating was made to be on the 30th, a Saturday. That feels really lame and wrong to me. And I'm not referring to the shopping mall times, I'm talking about the whole town decreed Trick-or-Treating to be the 30th. Can't we let loose on just one weekday?

  2. North Dakota is more German than Scandanavian. A large contingent of Volga Germans, whose ancestors once lived in the Volga area of Russia before immigrating to the western hemisphere, live in the state.

  3. "like tattoos -- choosing the perfectly unique stencil to tell the world about your special snowflake lifestyle"
    That is also my interpretation of the tattooing trend (particularly among females). Here is a recent example I came across where the tattoo (together with the bright pink skrillex hair etc) is clearly used to indicate "I'm special" rather than "I'm uglifying myself to scare guys away".

    Adults having a party on the weekend seems perfectly sensible. The actual party for a birthday may also occur on the nearest weekend. There's simply more time available and people generally don't have pre-commitments.

  4. Yeah, why get wild when you can get perfectly sensible?

    You have all the time in the world for a party on a week night, and nobody has any even more exciting commitments then (Netflix and Facebook don't count). No "pre-" necessary before commitments.

    The brain shuts off when it goes into rationalization mode.

  5. "One thing I've noticed is the strict time frame that communities post for Trick-or-Treating."

    It's telling that people today feel the need to plan everything down to the minute, even things that are supposed to be more spontaneous and up-in-the-air, like trick-or-treating on Halloween. OCD knows no boundaries.

    Before they just kept the candy bowl near the door, and since they were in for the night watching TV or whatever, they didn't need to look up the approved time frame. If kids knock, get up and give candy. It's simpler than trying to coordinate it because it doesn't need to be coordinated.

    Seemed like it was 6-8 here too. I thought of using the internet to map out where people allow their kids out later vs. earlier, using those posted time frames. But I figured, fuck it, there won't be much variation, and I know how it'll roughly turn out anyway -- earlier in the Scandinavian weenie areas like Wisconsin, later in Colorado.

    "And what's up with making Trick-or-Treat times on an earlier day?"

    The OCD doesn't hold anything sacred outside of its own preferences. So communal traditions will come right down if they rub enough spergs as irrational.

    I've seen trick-or-treating times posted all over the week(s) before Halloween. It's another way of diluting its power. There are a dozen places to take your kids across a dozen different days, and since no one will take their kids out twice, it'll just be an atomized scramble, not collective effervescence.

  6. I took notes tonight to pass the time between the rare sightings of trick-or-treaters, and to pin down some numbers.

    There were 3 groups including 4 children who showed up to my house. A group of 2 (ages 6 and 8, maybe), a single 2-3 year-old, and a single 2 year-old.

    Each group was accompanied by 2 parents. One group of parents stayed at the sidewalk (the ones with the 6 and 8 y.o.), and the other two with toddlers walked up with their kid, holding their hand.

    The toddlers didn't say "trick or treat" or "thank you," even though they could talk. I knew one could talk, since he waved "Hi" at the start, and on the way out told his parents "I saw fire!" referring to the jack-o-lantern.

    (In the spirit of Halloween, I should've said, "Hey kid, I got a book of matches if you want that instead of the candy. Just don't tell your parents...")

    The 6 and 8 year-olds didn't say "trick or treat" or "thank you" either, until they were halfway down the walkway, after their parents told them several times to say thanks.

    Kids these days make awful guests; they don't even know the most basic codes governing guest-host interactions. No wonder their parents never let them spend time with other people -- they'll act like rude brats in someone else's home, and embarrass the parents.

    That feeds into itself in a positive feedback loop, making them even worse guests by the time they're age 10 or 11. So just lock them up at home all day long, and they won't be able to embarrass mommy and daddy out in public.

  7. Its a shame, since Halloween was one of the best holidays for young people(kids as well as teenagers and young adults).


  8. (Though adults can definitely enjoy the holiday also).


  9. I was hanging out on the front porch since our porch light hasn't worked in forever, and the front window is a storage space with no lights. So that gave me a chance to observe across the street too.

    I saw 6 other groups including 12 kids (3, 3, 3, 1, 1, 1). I think 5 of those groups had 2 parents, and 1 of them had just 1.

    I began setting stuff up around 5:30, sat down at 6, and wrapped up at 8:30 after it was clear no one else was coming. (I was grading papers too, so it wasn't that boring.) In those 3 hours, only 9 groups including 16 kids hit up my section of the block. What a weak turn-out.

    I periodically looked up and down the street to see if there was any more activity elsewhere -- nope. I hardly saw any kids when I was out and about just before then, whereas in previous years I'd see a handful of groups as I made my way back home.

    Is it just that there's no kids around me? No, there are plenty of kids, but they either aren't allowed out, or are only allowed to hit up a handful of houses before their parents tell them that's enough. "Well, that's five houses already, whaddaya say we call it a night kids?"

    The worst offense was a family across the street. They piled into their car (3 adults, 2 kids), then came back in their car around 8:00, and went straight back into their house.

    So, they took them to an institutionally controlled trick-or-treating event -- and not as a supplement to venturing around their neighborhood, but as a substitute. Can't even trust the folks living next to you or on the other side of the street, eh? Fuck all these paranoid sheltering parents.

    Should we try to shame them? Like, talk to the other households on the street, pool our left-over candy, and leave it on their doorstep with a note saying it's for your children who you don't trust us with, so here it is without them having to interact with the crypto-pedophile-serial-killers who infest your block?

    It's such a slap in the face to see them do that, but I'll bet nobody else saw it if they weren't outside watching.

  10. One change from the '80s really stood out tonight -- not about Halloween, but about daily life. Tonight I actually saw a lot of houses with their blinds open to let the light through, so that trick-or-treaters would know their house is open.

    Everybody's so damn paranoid that there's only one night during the whole year when most people's windows show the inside of the house. Otherwise, they have a palisade of blinds, often reinforced by a palisade called a privacy fence out front.

    Why not dig a moat and fill it with snakes, neighbor?

  11. Key statistic: 17 parents to 16 children, across all groups I observed. There were more fucking parents than trick-or-treaters out on Halloween.

    How special do you think your kid feels this children's holiday is, when grown-ups outnumber children? When it's the parents talking to the candy-passer-outers, instead of the kids themselves? They're just being shuffled along, and all the interactions are taking place among adults, as though the parents were their kids' representative-cum-bodyguard. Don't look surprised when your kids grows up socially stunted for total lack of practice and experience.

    Stay home! Who's passing out candy at *your* house? It'd be bad enough if one parent accompanied the kids, but that would at least leave the other to stay home and pitch in on the host side of things.

    "Well, it's not like that many people would show up anyway, and we'll just turn the lights off to let them know we won't be home."

    Yeah, for no good reason -- not because you had something else to do, and unfortunately can't be home to host the neighborhood children, but because you're so damn paranoid you have to have both parents hovering over your kid, who *will* be collecting candy from the rest of us.

    It's parasitism on top of paranoia.

  12. Went to Google Images again to see when you first find pictures of parents following their kids around while trick-or-treating. Here's one from 1996:


    I remember that beginning in either '94 or '95, when I was passing out candy with my best friend. We were puzzled that parents were out their alongside the kids.

    There are very few pictures of trick-or-treating during the '90s, no matter what they show, though. Do Millennials not get very nostalgic (I wrote that up awhile ago -- Millennials getting nostalgic for not having a life while growing up).

  13. I had a good turnout. At least 20 children. Yay!

    I have one bad story though. I had two types of candy in two separate bowls. When I was handing out the second type to a group of kids, one of the kids said "No." Then his sister explained, "He doesn't like those." First time in my life that's ever happened.

    Best costume was a very simple and effect banana sown together with two pieces of yellow felt. Oddest was "1950s girl". Her costume was this floor length polka-dot skirt (maybe her mother's three quarters skirt), white frilly blouse, sweater tied around her neck, and tied back in a ponytail with a scrunchie. Very bad.

    I thought you were only supposed to go out trick or treating after dark? A lot of people were out before sunset which is before 7:00 pm where I live.

  14. Ha, I've never seen candy refused before either. Was he like, "Now go back and get something better!"?

    For those who are too young to have learned the basic guest-host code, he's supposed to take whatever is given, and only discard it or trade it around when he gets back home.

    We accepted all kinds of stuff we didn't really want, out of basic respect. Do you guys remember getting little boxes of raisins on Halloween? Or a stale popcorn ball? But hey, maybe that'll look more attractive when all the candy is gone... and maybe not. But you don't just chuck it on the ground after the person gives it to you.

    "I thought you were only supposed to go out trick or treating after dark?"

    Supposed to, yeah. My brother who has a 5 1/2 year-old kid posted some pictures on Facebook. My other brother tagged me in a comment saying, "Wait, Agnostic, is that trick or treating in the daylight?" Broad daylight, man.

  15. When I was growing up, there was a law that you couldn't trick or treat after 8 PM. So kids started going out right after school.


  16. What it was like in 1960s Appalachia, according to my mother:

    "Pap would haul all us hill kids in the back of his truck, drop us off at the firehouse, go play poker with his buddies and meet us a couple hours later at the other end of town."

    Way fewer smothering mothers by that point.

  17. Contaminated NEET11/1/13, 9:30 PM

    I'm with you 90% of the way, agnostic, but I have to stick up for pumpkin stencils. I love them. They're a lot more fun for an adult to carve than a basic jack o'lantern, and I admit I like getting complements on them from the trick-or-treaters. Political pumpkins and obscure references are annoying, so I stay away from those, but anything else is fair game. Maybe I'm a status-whore, but I think I just genuinely love Halloween.

    Also, what's your take on full-size bars? Generous holiday spirit or despicable upstaging of the neighbors? I always give them out because I remember how much I loved finding a house with full bars when I was a kid. For some illogical reason, they just seemed so much better than two fun-size bars, even though they're the same amount of candy.

  18. Upstaging the neighbors would be more of a quality than a quantity thing. Handing out one of those things whose packaging reads "Hand-crafted in small batches by European artisans."

  19. First off, love the blog.

    I agree. I was born in '83 and I can remember Halloween being one of the most exciting nights of the year. The streets were buzzing with youth and everyone felt like they were a part of something. We'd usually start trick-or-treating around twilight and stay out till 9ish, 9:30 even. I took great pride in picking out the perfect pumpkin and carving it a few days prior to Halloween. The costumes were much less pretentious, hell one year I went as a ghost. Yeah, a ghost, with a fucking sheet over my body and eye holes cut out. Now people are always trying to one-up each other, see who can be the most creative, ironic, or edgy. One thing that really resonated with me, even as a child, was the sense of community that I got from trick-or-treating. I feel like that's lost these days. I was handing out candy this year and had maybe a dozen kids come to my house, tops. A decent number of houses in the neighborhood didn't display any pumpkin whatsoever. I like what you have to say about people celebrating a nebulous, abstract season instead of the actual holiday. How many of your friends on Facebook (assuming you have Facebook) went batshit crazy earlier this year when the Starbucks pumpkin spice latte returned? It's much easier to smugly wear a scarf and sip flavored coffee than it is to be part of something real. Modern attitudes regarding Halloween are just one more indicator of the disintegration and atomization of our society. We got another month before we engorge ourselves then beat the shit out of each other for overpriced Chinese-made electronics.

  20. "How many of your friends on Facebook (assuming you have Facebook) went batshit crazy earlier this year when the Starbucks pumpkin spice latte returned?"

    LOL. I like how they officially refer to it as the PSL, using an autistic acronym to make it sound more like an in-crowd thing. "What does PSL stand for? Jeez, I thought you knew..."

    Even 7-11 has a pumpkin spice coffee now.

    I'm trying to blank out the coming consumerist war of all against all, AKA Black Friday. But I've covered it a lot over the past couple years (just search the blog for it). Many people don't realize how recent the mass phenomenon is -- like, 1992 or '93.

  21. A few of my Facebook friends went nuts upon the return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte. I've never had one, are they good? LOL.

    So work was very quiet on Halloween, as I expected. A few kids came in with their parents dressed up, as the mall across the street had a big event. My parents back home said they had one of their busiest Halloweens ever due to the weather. It was warm, but rainy here. If I have kids, I don't care if it's raining or snowing, they're going out and having a good time. I don't think we'll melt getting drenched one night a year.

    My nieces and nephews looked cute of course judging by Facebook pictures. Agnostic, you'll be happy to know my 8 year old niece went out with her friends. My 5 year old nephew went out with my brother. Not sure about the other two, but their mom (my sister) is pretty cool about stuff like that. She'd probably agree with a lot of things on this blog, actually.

  22. Trick-or-Treating in the daylight is lame and pertains to my comment from a few days ago. I never remember going with both of my parents; someone had to stay home and pass out candy after all. I think it was usually my dad walking me around, but I think in one or two instances it was my mom. And I remember them never walking to each door with me, regardless of my shyness. They would stay on the sidewalk/edge of the road.

  23. My kids are 4 and 6. Trick-or-treating started at 6pm - almost dark. The 6-year-old went out again about 7:30, until about 8:30. My wife took the kids this year. I handed out candy. Lots of parents, though the teenagers and almost all of the 10-12 year-olds came without parents, mostly in groups of friends. (Those that came with parents had younger siblings.)

    I gave out a lot of candy - I didn't count, but I'd guess at least 50 kids, less than 100. A few repeaters.

    Most kids said "trick-or-treat" and "thank you"; some of the little ones were too shy. No choruses though, unlike when I was a kid.

    I like in a nice upper-middle-class suburb next to a bigger city that's mostly ghetto. The big street a few blocks away has lots of people who really go all-out with the decorations, and there were hordes of kids (and parents) there. Lots of black parents who drove into our town to trick-or-treat; generally those kids were pretty well-behaved.

    I went wandering to see the decorations about 9:30 on that big street; lots of packs of teenagers and middle-school kids, lots of parents still doing the rounds with their younger kids.


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