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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Some thoughts on Halloween...

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. :-)

Sarah Madison


Anonymous said...

Halloween didn't use to be a tradition in Norway. We have our own trick or treating at Christmas, called julebukk. Lately, both Valentine's Day and Halloween have found their way here. Kids dress up for Halloween and go trick and treating, the rest of us may use it as an excuse to party. Before I spent a year in the US, Halloween was something I saw on TV but never participated in. During my year in DC, I fell in love with Halloween. Fall is my favorite part of the year here in Norway, and it was the same in DC. Finally, I was able to exist outside again! Crisp, clear air :)

When I came home, I brought the tradition with me. I loved getting my house decorated for Halloween. I've always been a big fan of ghost stories, so this was the perfect excuse to make my house look a bit spooky...I was a big hit in the neighborhood, with dressed up kids stopping by to get spooked. The little ones were always shrieking in fear and delight when I opened the door in my costume and equally happy when they walked away with a little bit of candy and maybe a torn off witches finger, or two.

To me, Halloween is a time to be creative. To find the recipes that will have the kids giggle with delight and go "eeeeeeeeew!" when they see what I've made this year.

Halloween is also the start of long season of darkness and light. Days are short and the nights are long and cold. But there's also light everywhere. We are very fond of using light inside and out to penetrate the darkness that surrounds us.

It's a season where my imagination runs wild. There are all kinds of creatures lurking in the shadows and on Halloween, they all come out to play.

Sarah M. said...

Oh, wow, this is fascinating! I love how Halloween has been incorporated into your country's culture (though I suspect it was largely for commercial reasons)!

What a lovely image you paint here--I can see the children coming up breathlessly to your door, and the rectangle of light spilling out on them when it opens, and hear their squeals of delight. I can see the dark streets with the beacons of light blazing from each home, and feel the excitement in the frosty air. Lovely!

The US is such a big country that many of us rarely come into contact with other cultures except through the media (and we all know how accurate that is). We can be a little insular in that regard, so I'm fascinated when I hear about different traditions and how they've changed. Thank you for sharing this with me--that is so very cool!

Anonymous said...

Does a particular season inspire you to write? I've found it easier to write in the winter, when it's cold and dark outside and warm and light inside.

Sarah M. said...

Absolutely! I think there's a good reason NaNoWriMo is in November! My problem stems from the fact that I often want to include scenic details in the WIP, and of course, the most vivid ones are occurring right outside the window as I write1

Sometimes I have to look up when certain flowers bloom, as I forget in December when the forsythia comes out in March!

Na said...

This is a wonderful post on Halloween. I agree that writing does enable us to play with different things and explore plenty of possibilities. Plus it get can be a lot fun too :) Have a great Halloween.

Sarah M. said...

Na: Sometimes I refer to writing as a habit that it would take a 12 step process to kick--if then! I used to make up stories all the time as a child, and then I stopped, thinking it was time to put away childish things and 'grow up'.

I suspect there were a lot of factors in play, not the least of which was that I spent many years as a caretaker to my father while also working a FT job. That doesn't leave much for creative energy at the end of the day!

A few years back, I decided to make a new life for myself in a new location. I quit my mind-numbing high stress job and went into business for myself. Someone introduced me to fanfiction, and I began to read voraciously. Eventually, I began to write and post my own stories. The feedback was so encouraging, that I submitted a story on a whim to a publisher, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I can't imagine *not* writing now! :-)