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: here, here, 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?