The Witching Hour

calendar-carved-carving-1480861

We all know Halloween is funded by Big Dental to create more cavities but it’s also true that Halloween traditions started long before lobbyists destroyed the planet. Black cats, pumpkins and ghosts existed at least 50 years ago, and probably longer.

So how did Halloween customs get started? Lucky for you, I researched this topic on the Internet contraption.

Did you know Bobbing for Apples was actually a dating game in ancient Rome? Kind of like Tinder, only with more drowning.

My elementary school did a dry version called Bobbing for Marbles. Teachers filled a plastic pool with flour and mixed in a few dozen marbles. We had to use our mouths to find the marbles. The two most likely outcomes were a) Inhale flour and die or b) Inhale a marble and die. Not even joking here.

Jack-o’-lanterns have a weird backstory that involves a guy named Stingy Jack, the devil and wandering spirits. I guess ghosts are afraid of gourds and root vegetables.  Who knew? Originally they used turnips, not pumpkins, but who’s ever heard of a turnip spice latte? So they had to start using pumpkins.

Black cats became associated with Halloween because witches have black cats. Duh.

Costumes date back to Biblical times when Jacob dressed up as his brother to trick his blind father into giving him keys to the donkey. It was also the first trick-or-treat on record.

When I was a kid, costumes included plastic masks, made from asbestos and glue, that would slowly asphyxiate you if you didn’t walk into a ditch first because you couldn’t see s*** through the pinpoint eyeholes.

Bats get a bad reputation. They’re not inherently evil, except for vampire bats that turn into the bloodsucking undead to hunt humans for food and eternal life. But originally, people would sit around bonfires (the 1780’s bug zapper), wishing for things like penicillin and electricity. The fires would attract insects and the insects attracted bats and people freaked out. As we are wont to do.

Handing out candy has several origin stories, including buying off zombies with snacks, bribing the dead, and kids going from house to house asking families for dinner because they didn’t want to eat what their mom had spent hours making for them because they’re ungrateful little . . .

Anyhoo.

Treats handed out to children have also evolved. It’s gone from apples and boiled carrots (boo) to king-size Butterfinger bars (hooray!).

Here’s what my Halloween bag contained when I was a kid: 8 dozen rolls of Smarties, 17 types of rock-hard bubble gum, 38 Bit-O-Honeys, 422 Pixie sticks, 25 pounds of saltwater taffy, 14 spider rings and one mini Snickers bars. It was the ‘70s. Don’t judge.

adorable-animal-canine-1564506One element of Halloween remained a mystery to me. When did we think dressing dogs in tutus was a good idea? I assumed the whole pet costume fiasco was started by rich, white girls with too much time and money. Turns out, in the 19th century, dog costumery was a thing – with the animal fashion industry churning out traveling cloaks, silk jackets, tea gowns and . . . wait for it . . . dog bikinis.

What Halloween traditions do you observe? Knife throwing? Handing out real goldfish to trick-or-treaters? You never know what your customs will become centuries from now.

Whatever you do, don’t sell your candy to a dentist. Big Dental just sells it back to grocery stores to reuse for the next Halloween.

Originally published in the Davis Clipper 
Advertisements

Junk in the Trunk

arrangement-blackboard-candle-1449058Trunks are super useful. If you’re an elephant, they’re a necessity. If you want to change a tire, hide Christmas gifts or transport a body, trunks are invaluable. But I don’t understand the connection between trunks and Halloween. Why is trunk-or-treating a thing?

In the U.S., trick-or-treating started after WWII when children went door to door begging for food on Thanksgiving (not joking). Then they continued begging through Christmas, New Years, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and so on—so I guess someone decided to create a national begging celebration on Halloween.

This mass candy solicitation certainly worked for me for many years. Part of the thrill of trick-or-treating was leaving the familiar neighborhoods, searching for the families handing out full-size Butterfingers. We’d come home with pillowcases full of candy, after walking miles and miles through Murray, Utah.

Now, in our heavily-sanitized society, parents want to make sure their kids won’t be handed anything with sugar, soy, peanuts or gluten, or have to interact with neighbors they’ve never met—so trunk-or-treating was introduced.

I know some churches feel trunk-or-treating (Halloween tailgating) is a way to watch over kids while keeping demonic costumes to a minimum. In fact, kids are often encouraged to dress as bible characters.

(Side note: If I was forced to dress as a woman from the bible, I’d be Jael and I’d carry Sisera’s head with a nail shoved through his temple. But that’s just me. The Book of Revelations also has some pretty messed-up oddities. My daughters could easily have passed for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse on any given day.)

blurred-background-bokeh-celebration-1426705Anyway. Part of growing up is being terrified all the time. Kids have so little control over their lives and, unfortunately, they learn early on that life can be scary and unpredictable.

As kids on Halloween, we got super scared, but we also knew that, deep down, we truly were safe. Visiting haunted houses made us feel brave. In our minds, going from house to house, asking strangers for candy, was akin to walking down a dark alley in New York City.

There was always one house on the block you were afraid to visit because it had strobe lights, shrieking screams, ghoulish laughter when you rang the bell and an unidentifiable zombie handing out treats with his bloody hands.

Even scarier was the house where the neighborhood witch resided. Lights turned off. No jack o’ lantern. You knew she was sitting in the dark, staring out her window, ready to cast spells on children who came to her door.

Additionally, my mom had me paranoid about eating any unwrapped candy, convinced my friend’s mom had dipped the open jawbreaker in bleach several times before handing it to me.

But really? How many people did you know that found a razor blade in their apple or received temporary tattoos laced with acid?

On November 1, when we woke up with piles of candy, stomach aches and Halloween make-up smeared on our pillows, we also felt we had survived something frightening—and imagined ourselves a little bit braver as we faced our lives.

But trunk-or-treating is not remotely scary, unless your trunk is part of a 1950s Cadillac hearse, complete with creaky coffin and a driver named Lurch. Maybe instead of meeting in church parking lots, we can stay in our homes and hand out candy as kids go door-to-door. I think that idea might just catch on.

Originally published in The Davis Clipper–Oct. 2015

 

Dressed to Kill

Halloween Party 2009 012

Every autumn, as I reconstructed our home after three months of child infestation, my daughters settled into their school classes and thoughts turned to Halloween. More specifically, thoughts turned to Halloween costumes.

I’d load my girls into the minivan and we’d attack the pattern books at Joann fabric, looking for the perfect costumes. (These pattern books weighed approximately 450 lbs. and had to be moved carefully or they would fall off the narrow perch and crush your hip bones.)

Costumes ranged from Disney princesses to Death, and each outfit had to last for decades because they were worn all the time and handed down for generations. (For example, one daughter, dressed as Snow White, shredded the hem of her gown under the plastic tires of her Big Wheel. Her dress looked like Snow White had been attacked by a pack of very short raccoons. She still wore it every day.)

After finding the right pattern, we’d roam the aisles, looking for fabric that didn’t cost the equivalent of an actual Disney movie.

During my costume-making tenure, I created all of the Disney princesses, a cheerleader, Super Girl, a lion, a pumpkin and several witches. (Sidenote: A witch costume in 1990 consisted of a long black dress, a long black cape, long black hair, a black hat and a broomstick. Now a witch costume is a black miniskirt, fishnet stockings and a push-up bra. I have no idea how to fly a broom in that outfit.)

Speaking of slutty clothes, my daughters were often pushing the envelope when it came to modesty. According to my daughter, her belly dancer’s shirt was too long, so (when I wasn’t around) she rolled it up several times to display her 10-year-old abs, and the gypsy Esmeralda’s blouse kept “accidentally” falling off her shoulders.

Daughter number three used her Cinderella costume as a method of seduction as she walked up and down our driveway in her slappy plastic high heels, flirting with the men building the garage. Did I mention she was four?

During another Halloween, she wanted to be Darth Maul. I made her costume, painted her face, but refused to put horns on her head. She grew her own devil horns a few years later.

By Oct. 20, all my intentions to create the perfect Halloween costume for each daughter devolved into madness as I frantically sewed to have everything done for the school’s Halloween parade (which is now the Fall Festival).

My Singer sewing machine would be thrumming 24-hours a day as I slowly lost my mind. I’d throw boxes of cold cereal at them for dinner, while I shrieked, “I’m making these costumes because I love you. Now shut the hell up!”

Once Halloween was over, costumes went into a big box and were worn by my daughters and their friends all year. At any given moment, a girl wearing Beauty’s voluminous yellow ball gown would be chasing Super Girl through the living room, with a toddler-sized Jack-o’-lantern nipping at their heels.

My daughters have carried on the costume tradition. My grandchildren have been garden gnomes, Austin Powers, a unicorn, and even an 18-month-old Betty Boop. It makes my black Halloween heart smile.

Now, my Singer gathers dust and I haven’t looked through pattern books for years, but every October my fingers twitch and I fight the urge to take my girls to browse fabric aisles. I wonder what my husband is doing this weekend. He’d make a beautiful Disney princess.

 

Top 5 Halloween Party Themes

In less than three weeks, it will be Halloween. You’re running out of time to plan an unforgettable, totally unique Halloween party that will set you apart from all the boring sugar cookie decorating and pumpkin carving celebrations.

Please. You’re better than that.

If you’re having a hard time coming up with a unique theme for your Halloween Hullabaloo, I’ve done all the thinking for you.*

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: This terrifying moral tale was meant to teach kids to avoid gluttony, greed, pride, sloth, etc. As young Charlie Bucket watches his fellow factory adventurers fall in the traps of the insane chocolatier, Willy Wonka, we learn . . . ummm . . . candy is made from children?? Add creepy Oompa Loompas and you’ve got the makings of one cocoa-crazy party.

Dental Visit: Create a Halloween nightmare with a drill, a reclining chair, shiny lights, medical face masks and the smell of nitrous oxide. Let panic ensue.

dental chair

(Looks sanitary to me. Open wide.)

Sesame Street: Imaginary woolly mammoths, 10-foot birds running amok, green monsters jumping out of trash cans, a red furry creature screaming, “Hug me!”, a vampire count with no concept of personal space, creepy puppets just waiting for someone to shove a hand up their spine—just a normal day on Sesame Street. But a super creepy party theme.

Junior High School: Tap into those repressed fears of being clumsy, inadequate, sweaty, stupid, terrified, alone, mocked, left out and smelly. Turn your kitchen into a junior high lunch room, complete with a “cool-kids-only” table and extra sloppy sloppy Joe’s. Hand each child a pop history quiz and tell them they get no treats until they answer everything correctly. No cheating, dammit!

jrhigh

(Can’t you feel the terror??)

Hospital Waiting Room: Arrange uncomfortable chairs around the edges of the room. Toss in a few Popular Mechanics magazines from 1998 and a handful of STD pamphlets. Hang a broken clock on the wall. Hand party goers novel-length medical forms to fill out because the hospital has updated its medical records system again and needs all your information in triplicate. Have someone constantly sneeze without covering their nose/mouth.

What’s been your favorite Halloween party? I’m always looking for new ideas!

*This pre-thinking service is available for only $99. If you call today, you get a second one free.

Are You Too Old To Trick or Treat?

I don’t ask for ID when someone shows up on my doorstep begging for candy–as long as it’s Halloween. I don’t care if you’re a gangsta teen, a middle-aged mom, a 2-day-old baby or even that creepy 30-something guy who’s always hanging around the park. I’ll give anyone candy–because it’s CANDY! Everyone loves candy!

But in the interest of safety, there comes a time when you should probably hang up the trick-or-treat bag and stay planted on the couch watching Dark Shadows reruns. Here are some hints you should stay home on Halloween:

  • You leave your house to go trick or treating, and don’t remember how to find your way back.
  • You remember meeting the original Dracula.
  • Someone says, “What are you supposed to be?” You reply, “Dead.”
  • People keep saying, “Great old lady costume!”

DSC_0043 - Copy

(But I’m not wearing a costume.)

  • Your walker keeps getting stuck in the sidewalk cracks.
  • Every time someone gives you taffy, you whine, “Well, how the hell am I supposed to eat that?”
  • Your idea of “giving someone a scare” means grabbing your chest and screaming.
  • You creak, groan and moan like a Halloween soundtrack.
  • You feel the need to shake your cane at hoodlum children.

cane(“Just wait ’til I get my hands on you, you little whipper-snappers!”

  • You keep asking to use your neighbors’ bathroom.
  • On every porch, you stop to tell the trick-or-treaters that you “remember buying a sackful of candy for only 5 cents at old Mr. McGowan’s grocery store that was right next to Mr. Polanski’s barber shop. They’re both dead now.”
  • When given hard candy, you ask if they have something “a little softer.”
  • You hand your bag to your grandkids and tell them to “not come back until it’s full–or you’re out of the will.”

Whatever your age, trick-or-treat safely, don’t eat your candy in one night–and save me all the Snickers! Happy Halloween!

Halloween Candy Personality Quiz

Leave it to Facebook to help you determine which U.S. President you are, what horror monster you’d be, your favorite color and if you’ve ever attended college. Online quizzes are the new GED; and you know you’ve taken at least one (dozen).

I thought I’d create a quiz to determine what your Halloween candy behavior says about you. It is entirely accurate, so be aware, you might learn something disturbing about your personality.

1. Do you hand out: a) king-size Kit Kat bars, b) fun-size Kit Kat bars, c) what’s a Kit Kat bar?, or d) apples.

kit kat

(This is the WRONG WAY to eat a Kit Kat!)

2. Do you search your kid’s Halloween bag for: a) full-size chocolate bars, b) unwrapped candy, c) isn’t everything mine already? or d) apples stuffed with razor blades.

3. How long did your Halloween candy last when you were a child: a) a few weeks, b) a few days, c) a few hours or d) I gave it to my little brother.

4. Which Halloween candy will get your car egged: a) Tootsie rolls, b) Hubba Bubba, c) pencils/erasers, or d) apples.

5. How much do you spend on Halloween candy: a) more than $100, b) between $50 and $100, c) less than $10, or d) I don’t buy candy.

6. What do you do with leftover Halloween candy: a) give it to a children’s shelter, b) give it to neighbor kids, c) you’ve already eaten it, or d) I don’t keep candy in my home.

candy

7. Which of these is NOT appropriate to give out on Halloween: a) toothbrushes, b) fruit, c) sample-size dish soap, or d) candy.

8. What is your Halloween candy of choice: a) candy bars, b) suckers, c) chewy taffy or d) apples.

RESULTS:

If you answered mostly A, you are trying too hard. Kids don’t appreciate your efforts. They’ll probably kick your pumpkins before they leave.

If you answered mostly B, you’ve put the holiday in perspective, but kids will still kick your pumpkins, and probably steal your Halloween lawn ornaments.

If you answered mostly C, you are most likely male and didn’t even realize it was Halloween until strange children in costumes knocked on your door, begging for food. Your car will definitely get egged.

If you answered mostly D, you are obviously a health nut, and need to be slapped. Not only will children avoid your home, they will place warning sides on your fence letting the neighborhood know it’s not worth coming to your home. And they’ll kidnap your cat.

fun size

When it comes to Halloween candy, there really are no wrong answers. If you drop in it my bag, I’ll most likely eat it. And I won’t kick your pumpkins, either.

It’s. Still. Summer.

There are people out there (yes, I’m talking to you), who love to discuss the waning days of summer; who anticipate the slow dimming of the sun as society returns to a state of hibernation. To these people, I say, “Shut the hell up.”

The only thing that gets me through stupid Utah winters, is the idea of summer. In January, I’m already counting the days until I can pack up my heavy sweaters and run around barefoot in the grass. I’m like the Olaf of Salt Lake.

olaf

(I’m totally cool with summer.)

But YOU. YOU can’t stop talking about pumpkin spice candles, pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin spice lotions, pumpkin spice spice or any other fall squash-related products. Here’s a clue–IT’S NOT FALL YET!!!! Give me just a few more weeks of watching summer sunsets, wearing shorts instead of parkas, being eaten by mosquitos while I munch on gooey s’mores and walking Ringo without having to wear LAYERS.

Plus, it was so dismally rainy here in August that I’m pretty sure we should get a do-over for the past month.

rain

(In the house. In the rain. In August.)

I’m working with local legislators to create a law banning NFL and high school football Facebook posts, discussions or games until after Sept. 22. As part of this law, it will be punishable to sell fall-related foods, clothing or craft items until the first day of autumn. (Hey, it makes as much sense as the majority of Utah’s laws.) There will be no Halloween costumes. No candy corn. No scarecrows decorations. No delightfully arranged fall centerpieces. NOTHING until summer is officially over.

Give me time to mourn the waning of warmth without your insane anticipation for the fall season.

DSC_0562

(My daughter and grandson enjoy summer, too.)

My mind is simple. I enjoy simple things. A fresh peach, a handful of raspberries, a BLT with real tomatoes (not grocery stores knock-offs), the sun on my face–even a few more freckles on my shoulders. On the first day of fall, I will wake up with a deep sadness, but will look forward to autumnal traditions, including enjoying the beauty of the season.

But until then, I will rage against the dying of the light!