I wrote this one night last week, when I was thinking about what Halloween meant to me. I’ve got to leave for work soon, and won’t be able to come back until much later today, so I wanted to share this with you as I headed out the door.
Halloween. It's always been one of my favorite holidays. Perhaps, it is because it occurs during my favorite time of year. I've never been a big fan of summer. The long, hot, humid days, culminating in sleepless nights. I would lie awake in the room that I shared with my sister, waiting breathlessly for the small oscillating fan to rotate in my direction. Briefly, a slight breeze would cross my hot little body. I had childhood asthma, which made it hard to breathe, and I was miserable. I can clearly recall the night my sister crept out of her bed to kneel beside mine. "If you don't stop making that noise," she said, "I will kill you."
Yeah. Summer was not my favorite time of year.
Autumn, however, was the beginning of my Holy Season. Unlike the average child, I looked forward to going back to school in the fall. The best day of the year was that first September day in which the temperature dropped 20°. As we waited for the school bus, the morning air was crisp and cool, like biting into a fresh apple. Dead leaves lined the sidewalk, crackling underfoot with a satisfying crunch as we walked. The air smelled of wood smoke, wet mulch, and frost. In the evenings, the moon was a glorious golden orb in the sky. On the clear, cool nights, the sky was full of a multitude of stars, as though a giant had scattered diamonds from his treasure chest.
So, this Halloween, while most people's thoughts at this time of year turned toward the creatures of the night, I found myself thinking of my childhood. The other night, my mother asked me what I remembered most about Halloween as a child. It struck me as ironic, since I had only very recently been thinking about the same thing myself. Halloween today is very different from when I was a child. Back then, the neighborhood was our playground. When we got home from school, we would rush through our homework, grab our bicycles, and head out into the streets. From the time we got home until dark we raced up and down our neighborhood. We wore steady paths through the woods and gave them names. No one was concerned for our safety. We were safe.
This, too, was reflected in our Halloweens. As children, we played with our neighbors every day. We knew each other. On Halloween, we would dress in costume, and as soon as it was dark, we would traverse the neighborhood. Each of the houses seemed to have their own specialty when it came to Halloween treats. My mother used to make Lifesaver airplanes. Somehow, using a roll of Lifesavers as the body of the plane, and with the judicious use of Popsicle sticks and toothpicks, she managed to create biplanes with little Lifesavers as wheels. She gave these out at Halloween, along with popcorn balls, and candied apples. I can't imagine anyone today taking the time that she must have put into this. No one has time for this sort of thing anymore. No one, that is, besides Martha Stewart, someone my mother wouldn’t dream of emulating today. Not to mention, these days we would not allow our children to eat such homemade candies. I myself, have not had a trick-or-treater come to the house in years!
I suppose most people hold parties for their children. I understand the reasons why. It only makes sense. But I think in our need to protect our children, we have lost something of the magic of Halloween.
Each year, I looked forward to dressing in costume. When I was about four or five, my grandmother made me a tiger suit. I can still picture it clearly. A full-length bodysuit made out of orange material, complete with tail. The black stripes had been cut with pinking shears, so that they were slightly zigzaged on the edges. This suit had a hood that fitted over my head, with tiny ears. I wore black shoes, and the sleeves ended in mittens that fitted over my hands, the undersides of which were detailed with black paw prints. My mother would paint whiskers on my face with an eyebrow pencil. I wore it every year until I was too big to fit into it anymore. Among other things, I suspect that suit helped foster a lifelong love of tigers. There was something magical too, in taking on the role of the tiger, growling and hissing appropriately at the invitation of my neighbors. After dark, in the cold frosty air, as we walked door-to-door, the light of our flashlights bobbing before us, we temporarily forgot ourselves, and become something else entirely.
That is the magic of Halloween. It is also the magic of writing. To those of us who write, it is no different from putting on a costume and becoming a totally different character. Writing allows us to explore facets of ourselves that we would otherwise not put on display. Like dressing up for Halloween, writing gives us a legitimate reason for being someone else. When we write, we get to play with elements of our lives, and present them in new and different fashions than we've ever thought about before. Like Halloween, writing allows the child within us to explore worlds of fantasy, and to live roles bigger than ourselves.
Writing allows me to ask my favorite question of “what if…?” What if two completely different personalities are forced by circumstances to rely on each other? What if a vampire decides he wants to live a normal life? What if two co-workers fall in love—and they just happen to live and work in outer space? Those questions are as magical and delightful to me as walking in the dark up to a house and ringing the bell, catching my breath to shout “Trick or Treat!” when the door opens and light spills out into the night.
It is no wonder that Halloween is one of my favorite holidays.
I have to go to work for several hours soon, but I will have internet access. Tell me about your favorite Halloween memories, and I will select one commenter at random to receive a free copy of my upcoming sci-fi M/M novella from Dreamspinner Press (available November 7th): Practice Makes Perfect
Your thoughts and comments will keep me warm on a freezing afternoon!
Be sure to check out the Dreamspinner site: search for Gary the Gargoyle door knocker--when you find him on the site, click on him for a free download from the author whose page he's been hiding on! And be sure to check out the end of each story for a discount code. :-)