Writing on Halloween Day and two days before Election 2010, I look back over Halloweens and elections I have known. How different they are now! For that matter, how different they were then!
Not so long ago, Halloween was a children’s festival. Elementary school children’s art projects were accomplished with construction paper, scissors and crayons. Sometimes pupils wore costumes to school. Moms sent treats—candy corn, cookies with orange icing.
Sometimes the PTA sponsored a party, usually it was during the school day. There would be costumes and bobbing for apples and treats. Most costumes seemed to be versions of witches, goblins or ghosts, or maybe animals.
There were jack-o-lanterns on display at many homes: real pumpkins, many home grown, carefully chosen for size and shape, hand carved, with candles inside.
Older relatives reminisced about their youthful high jinks involving upsetting privies and chicken coops and dumping manure on the principal’s lawn. These recollections seemed to bring the tellers a certain satisfaction, but they would state that they’d better not hear of any of their kids or grandkids doing such things.
Teachers might read some spooky stories, such as “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” or something by Poe.
Young children would dress in “disguises” and would be taken to see relatives, friends and neighbors, who would profess not to recognize them and would insist on unmasking them, and would then offer treats.
When I was in junior high we were taken downtown an afternoon or two to create temporary masterpieces on the store windows. We decorated them on the outside, using tempera. I think it was mixed with glass wax. Businesses got together to put up prizes for most original, most artistic, etc. That way the windows did not get decorated in less desirable ways, not colorfully but with wax.
Scraping wax off windows was a pain. Even worse was getting it out of screens.
Waxing business and house windows and cars was a favorite Halloween prank of kids a generation ago. Sometimes soap was used instead, and that mischief was more easily eradicated.
For a time it seemed that throwing toilet paper into trees was considered extremely entertaining. I haven’t heard of that being done lately.
The idea behind trick-or-treat was that people would treat the children, usually costumed, who came to homes and presented the proposition. Some of the older kids presented the extortion more threateningly: “Treat, or trick!”
Trick or treat for UNICEF was encouraged by schools and PTAs for some years. The idea was that kids would give up their own trick-or-treating and instead would collect change to help the United Nations-related agency which, in turn, would help children in Third World countries.
Then it stopped being an instead-of activity, and children collected for UNICEF one night, for themselves another. Or they collected for both at once.
I’m guessing it was 15 years or so ago that adults began to get into Halloween in a big way. They would get elaborate costumes, and give or attend lavish parties or make the rounds of clubs and bars to party.
The Halloween parades that used to feature many floats, made by classes and clubs, competing for prizes, have gone by the boards. Maybe kids aren’t interested in making floats; or maybe adults are too busy to help with those activities. The costume parade and Moose Family Center party do provide fun after trick-or-treating, though.
Elections bring some relief in the form of the end to another tiresome and irritating campaign season. This year campaigns were even less enlightening and uglier than ever. Talk about disguises and tricks! What could be more grotesque than some of the distortions of positions and records foisted off on us?
Campaigns have changed even more than Halloween customs. They are all about fundraising, e-mail and social networking campaigns aimed at raising money with which to pay for more advertising and polling and telephoning. There is little actual information being disseminated about candidates and issues—and this is the Information Age!