31 October 2007

The New Urban Halloween

Halloween isn't quite like it was when I was growing up.

My children have gone to trick of treat at Whole Foods and South High School, before making the neighborhood rounds. Bobbing for apples at South substituted for more traditional Halloween parties. When my children go out this evening, they will be some of a very few neighborhood kids trick or treating in our neighorhood -- most come from well beyond walking distance. I keep up the tradition anyway, for the little more than a hundred kids who come in a typical year, but one by one, other houses on the block are dropping out. Nobody eggs or TPs the houses of "non-participators" any more.

This morning was the school Halloween parade. I was struck by the incredible diversity of the costumes. A majority were home made creations. There were only a handful of true, bought it at the same store repeats in the entire crowd of hundreds of kids. Even commercial characters -- clearly drawing their inspiration from Star Wars and Harry Potter, for example, were often home made (and better than most of the commercial options). While there were healthy representations of witches, pirates, ghosts, princesses and devils, probably a third or more were non-traditional Halloween characters . . . a Twinkie and a Swiss peasant, for example. Probably only a quarter of the costumes represented anything that could inspire fear. For a nation at war, patriotic or military costumes were suprisingly rare.

Much of this is subtle local tradition imposed by example, by what the teachers wear, by was praised in prior years, by what younger kids advanced to higher grades have learned to expect. But, it reflects our values. We care about individuality and artistic value more than creating a sense of fear, and we are instinctively anti-commercial, to the extent we can manage it.

While people are cautious about candy, and rarely distribute it unpackaged any longer, there is far more concern about limiting calories than about foreign objects designed to hurt children these days.

Houses are still decorated, with far more over the top compared to what I grew up with, and with decorations our far earlier.

Halloween has become one of the real highlights of the year. One reason for this is that Halloween is so popular is that it is a "safe" holiday to celebrate because it has been so secularized that it isn't a touchy issue.

Christmas and Easter are far less so. While we don't entirely ignore them, my wife has not rejected these traditions a much as I have and Christmas is a time society makes available to gather with family, the compromise we have struck is that Christmas and Easter are understated. Our family does more random acts of kindness giving to the children, and less at Christmas in particular. Due to logistics (I have family in Seattle, Las Vegas, Boston and Southern Ohio), we hand out presents in dribbles. We usually put up a small artificial Christmas tree, but the decorations aren't garrish or public. We don't do Easter baskets, although a neighbor often makes a small Easter gift to the children, we receive a card or two, and my wife and the kids often go to a service at the local Unitarian Church.

Summer birthdays for the children make big parties with classmates more difficult to arrange.

So, out we will go tonight again, in that wonderful Denver weather that always seems to turn frigid cold, just in time for Halloween.

1 comment:

Dex said...

have a happy one, proph.