Where has Halloween Gone?
Can we still drum-up some of the magic of the holiday in midlife?
Halloween is a nothing holiday these days, and that sucks.
Is this normal in midlife? It went from an annual cornerstone calendar event as a child, rivaled only by Christmas, to a holiday that's barely a blip on the calendar in my mid-40s. The only indicators of the holiday at my age are the plastic skeletons, hollowed-out Jack o' Lanterns, and foam-molded faux-gravestones that dot the front yards of every few homes that I pass on my morning run.
But as a kid, Halloween was an event in our household. My dad was particularly fond of the holiday, and I think that stemmed from his fanatical adoration of 80's VHS horror films and straight-to-video bangers of slasher films. My brother and I had our childhood innocence savagely tainted early on with films like Madman, Return of the Living Dead, Witchboard, and of course the original Evil Dead saga. My dad's enthusiasm really affected my brother in particular, who found inspiration and took things a step further by stocking up on foam latex, red food coloring, Carro's corn syrup, and an ever-growing stack of Fangoria magazines, meticulously teaching himself the craft of special makeup effects (a passion which continues to this day).
So when Halloween rolled up on the calendar every year, our family did not fuck around. My dad would immediately get to work with his stuffed newspaper and pillowcase-headed dead body hanging on a noose from the tree in our front yard. My brother would be planning whatever fucked up lacerated burn-victim face concept of a costume he would cook up in his mind's eye months in advance.
When the day rolled around every year, our parents would set us loose as we put in three hours or so of solid work around the neighborhood, picking clean every house and filling up our double-bagged plastic grocery sacks full of candy. My dad would follow us by car, bumping the Michael Myers theme song from his worn cassette tape of the Halloween 4 soundtrack at top volume.
It was a vibe, and my brother and I would have candy for weeks afterward.
And then, somewhere in my teenage years, all of the fun and magic of the holiday just stopped.
It only got worse once adulthood hit. I traded in my sack of candy for a pile of bills and a dead-end job that paid the rent. Halloween would come and go without much notice at all.
Once in a while, I would spend the evening popping in Madman or one of the Evil Dead films, listening to the occasional group of Trick-or-Treaters passing outside. It was a long-shot attempt to drum up and recapture some of that old Halloween magic I experienced in childhood. But it never really was effective in taking me back to those days. I just had to wrestle with too much other crap in adulthood, and to be perfectly honest, whatever residual Halloween excitement remained ended up dying when my dad passed away.
Halloween had a window of resurgence when my son was growing up, in the prime ages of 4 to about 12 or so. My kid absolutely loved dressing up as superheroes, and when the 31st would roll around, he was hype AF. I loved his enthusiasm, hopping around the couch in his Spider-Man costume and shooting invisible webs from his wrists as the evening drew near and the Jack O' Lanterns began to flicker on. I was unabashedly living vicariously through him, and for the first time in ages, Halloween meant something to me again.
It was a much more tame version of Halloween than the blood-and-guts-soaked ones I grew up with, as my kid wasn't lucky enough to experience the heyday of bottom-shelf VHS slasher films like we were (Which, as a byproduct, helped him retain his innocence far longer than that of my brother and I), but it was his excitement of the evening that mattered.
During the height of this brief Halloween renaissance, I even joined him one year, dressing up as Mexican luchador cinema leyenda, Santo: The Man in the Silver Mask, as I walked him around the neighborhood.
But as any of my midlife brethren can tell you, kids grow up fast, and the second wave of Halloween was here and gone, snuffed out like the last lingering flames of a candle inside a hollowed-out pumpkin.
When my son one year suddenly declared that he was "too old" for Trick-or-Treating, that was a wrap. My heart died just a little more, and I abruptly found myself where I've been since; Halloween has once again been relegated to a nothing holiday that holds no more fun for me.
It's not just Halloween, either. Christmas, Easter, and even birthdays seem to lose most of their magic after you emerge out of the sanctuary of childhood and the mechanisms of "reality" slap you in the face. All of these holidays are containers of memories from a time when life still held so much mystery and the possibilities of the world seemed endless. I kind of hate that kids can find the answer to anything with a simple Google search these days. I can only hope that they're still able and willing to suspend disbelief and indulge in the magic to create their own potent memories to call back on when they're at the point in their journeys that we find ourselves today.
And on the eve of this Halloween (which also would have been my dad's birthday), I'm dipping back into those memories to drag some semblance of that Halloween spirit back into the forefront. Tomorrow night, I'll probably cook dinner and put on John Carpenter's The Thing, and during the quiet parts, I'll listen closely for the reassuring chatter of excited Trick-or-Treaters passing by outside.
Sorry if this week’s musings on Halloween are kind of a downer. But I’d like to hear from you all. How do you inject some of that magic and wonder back into the holidays? Or do you let them just pass on by with little notice these days? Sound off in the comments! Since MidThoughts is still in its infancy, your feedback is vital in growing this community and delivering compelling content that resonates with you.
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That’s all for now. Be sure to join me back here in a short couple of weeks for another issue of MidThoughts.