When did celebration inflation raise Halloween up from being a rinky-dink deal for kids to a national holiday for adults? And why?
Maybe it fills the void left by the end of the World Series, encouraging fans to get off the couch and change out of their sweatpants.
Another thought: Thanksgiving and Christmas will arrive all too soon (my local CVS is already stocked with wrapping paper). But those holidays invariably involve copious amounts of family tension, whereas Halloween is all about that community of friends we've chosen to be our family. It offers the tantalizing possibility of mingling with strangers dressed as say, Sarah Palin or a character from The Office. And unlike the other holidays where you have to dress the turkey, you simply dress yourself and then eat candy and chips washed down with beer or an alcoholic concoction masquerading as witch's brew.
But despite its popularity, Halloween has always made me uncomfortable. And as its status has grown, I've come to approach it with much the same dread that most people reserve for New Year's Eve. The expectations for both are so heightened, they can't possibly be met.
It's not so much the potential for let down that makes me wary as the fact that I was born without the crafts gene. I, who haven't progressed beyond stick-figure drawings, feel inadequate in the face of undo creativity. I recently ran into a woman who rhapsodized about the hours she'd spent papier-mache-ing her kid's costume, whereas I wouldn't recognize papier-mache if it was stuck to the bottom of my shoe. As a child I enjoyed being a hobo. It was an outmoded concept even then, but it offered an easy out: tie a bandanna on a stick and off you go.
I also find masks unnerving. Most people who saw Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, that awful late '90s movie that presaged Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman's divorce, forgot it promptly upon leaving the theater. But I remember it because I was so creeped out by a scene when Cruise goes to a orgy where everyone is wearing a mask. To me, a costume doesn't even have to be sinister to be off-putting. I remember not being able to get a refill of witch's brew fast enough at a college fraternity party where every third guy I talked to had hidden his identity inside a pumpkin suit.
Halloween is like a roller coaster. It scares people within the boundaries of safety. But I don't like to be frightened. I was always the kid at slumber parties who would find an excuse to call my mom just as the ghost stories started heating up.
For now, though, I'm lucky. My kids are still young enough that the cheesier the store-bought costume, the better, as long as it comes with a weapon. And when people ask me what I'm going dressed up as, I tell them, a haggard mom. There's no elaborate makeup application, no sewing, no hot-glue gun required. Plus, I get to help myself to the stash of Snickers after my knight and cowgirl have gone to sleep.
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