Each holiday comes with it's own brand of unpleasantness and disappointment. New Year's Eve offers forced joviality along with the prospect of being French kissed by a blowzy stranger with Cold Duck on her breath. Christmas means spending lots of thought and money on presents for people who already have way too much stuff and enduring long hours with folks you'd never spend five minutes with if you didn't share a smidge of DNA.
However, most holidays also have an upside. Thanksgiving often brings out the charitable side of people who donate to food drives and volunteer too serve dinner to those in need. Easter signals the final days of winter and sometimes the final round of the Masters.
Then, there's Halloween, the holiday, with no redeeming features. For starters, it's not even a proper "holiday" because nobody gets to miss school or work.
When I was a kid, instead of getting the day, or even a half-day off, we got to (or, rather, were forced to) go to a "Halloween Harvest Festival." This meant being marched en masse to the gym where the PTA had set up booths selling Halloween "treats". One year we went early in the morning and Gail McDonald, the girl who sat behind me, bought a candied apple, a ridiculous concoction that manages to obliterate the wonderful qualities of both candy and apples. She spent all day gnawing away at her prize and finally finished it off around two o'clock that afternoon.
At two-fifteen, just as I had been called on to read aloud from "The Song of Hiawatha," I heard a low gurgling sound from behind me. This was followed by a splat as Gail heaved her recently-digested treasure onto the back of my neck. Gail burst into tears and was sent to the school nurse while I, whose situation was equally distressing, was told to go to the boys' bathroom and "rinse off." When I returned, I was commanded to continue reading the Longfellow classic as my classmates showed their sympathy by holding their noses and fanning the air with sheets of notebook paper.
Also, on October 31 in various years, I have been bitten by my own dog, had my cornea scratched after my cousins threw me into a rose bush and caught German measles from a girl dressed as Roy Orbison. Last year, I returned from a Halloween Bonfire (a Vermont tradition) at my neighbors' to find a message from the state police saying my wife had been in a car wreck. She's okay now, but it was a long winter of hospital stays interspersed with battles with the insurance company.
Of course, it's no wonder bad things happen on Halloween, considering its basic premise. The other holidays, with all their faults, espouse positive ideas - gratitude, celebration, etc. Halloween, on the other hand, is based on the bizarre idea that somehow it's fun to increase the general level of fear. I was brought up in the fifties. Between polio and the prospect of nuclear war, I didn't - and still don't - need any additional stimuli to provoke anxiety attacks and nightmares. In fact, I think we should ditch Halloween and replace it with something like a National Day of Reassurance. Just think how much better it would be if society's institutions, along with the greeting card industry, focused their energy on offering comfort, instead of terror, to a citizenry already jittery over dwindling retirement accounts, rising global temperatures and kids with so-so SAT's? I say it's worth a try.
By the way, I'm also not that crazy about the taste of Pumpkin.
--By Tom Maxwell