In my recent post about my love of all things ‘fall’, I wrote about the big deal that’s made of Halloween over here in the States. As soon as Labor Day is over, people start discussing their costume choices, ghoulish pumpkins line the streets from early October, and trick or treating is pretty much mandatory. And whilst, three Halloweens in to our US adventure, I am totally bought in to the festivities, my cynical British brain still struggles to get my head around the phrase ‘Happy Halloween’. I mean, that’s not really the point, is it? This is a pagan festival intended to ward off the evil spirits of those no longer living – what’s so happy about that?
Well, I’m pleased to say that at every turn this year, I was witness to the happiness that this ancient holiday brings with it. The Friday before the big day we gathered with friends from our ‘Stroller Strides’ class to celebrate. The kids had an awesome time running around the park in their costumes, whilst the mums had time to chat over coffee with other actual adults. Big win. Over the weekend, as my Facebook feed was flooded with pictures of friends and their families celebrating at the city’s ‘Boo at the Zoo’ event, we ventured to a local neighbourhood’s ‘Pumpkinfest’. Shops and businesses hosted kids for trick or treating, whilst other families joined forces to star in the costume parade. The winning trio featured parents dressed as Secret Service agents, pulling their toddler son in full President get-up in a baby cart expertly disguised as part of the presidential motorcade. Fun for them and the onlookers. I also took great pleasure in making my first ever decent stab at pumpkin carving, whilst the entrails scooped out from inside provided a perfect opportunity for toddler messy play (and yes, it was very messy). A happy way for both of us to spend an afternoon.
On the 31st itself, my daughter’s daycare hosted a costume parade of its own, inviting families in to enjoy the spectacle. The toddlers didn’t have much clue about what was going on, but it was clear that the benefactors of the happiness vibe were really the parents and grandparents, whose faces lit up as their little munchkins turned out as the most adorable crowd of pumpkins, dinosaurs, astronauts and superheroes you’re ever likely to see. Ella was just a simple black cat, but I took an unwarranted amount of pleasure from fashioning her costume out of a black hoodie and pair of pointy eared hairclips, and it made me really look forward to years to come when we can work together to make costumes and decorate our house for the occasion. (Remind me of this in a few years when I’m up in the early hours of the morning cursing the sewing machine and the fact that my crafting abilities sadly don’t match up to my big imagination…)
As dusk settled on Halloween night we headed out to enjoy the spectacle of trick or treating in our neighbourhood – apparently voted one of the best places in the country to indulge. As in previous years, certain blocks had gone completely to town with their decorations – from skeletons suspended from three storeys high, to scaffolding strung with spooky lighting, to a full curbside makeover converting one house in to ‘Candy Lane’, hosted by giant M&Ms, candy canes and Tootsie Rolls. The array of costumes sported by trick or treaters was vast, and featured everything from traditional witches and zombies, to film characters and caricatures of current presidential candidates. And as Philly is a city mad about its dogs, they weren’t spared the costume treatment either. Canine sightings included a magician, a reindeer, several hot dogs, a shark and, in my opinion the pièce de doggy resistance, Sebastien the crab accompanying his Little Mermaid owner.
All of this was brilliant. But where the happiness factor really lay, in my eyes, was in seeing how much effort the homeowners had gone to to give these kids a good time. A number of people had obviously left work early to get home and do the candy-dishing out duties, and where they hadn’t, huge cauldrons of sweets sat pre-emptively on steps; some homeowners had set up tables to share pizzas and beers with neighbours; others were dishing out cups of red wine to parental passersby. And so many of the hosts had dressed up themselves – alongside ghosts and vampires, we spotted adult-sized gorillas, Elmo and the Cookie Monster, and a convincing Dory the fish. I challenge even the hardest of hearts not to be touched by the sight of a man in his 50s in a lovingly homemade Minion costume. What brilliant sports.
So, I confess, I have shed my British cynicism and am now a fully endorsing member of the ‘Happy Halloween’ club. It’s about getting creative with costumes and decorations. It’s about opening your front door and not just acknowledging your neighbours, but sharing a beer with them. It’s about shedding adult inhibitions to make kids laugh. Next year, I may even be tempted to dress up myself….watch this space!