Pumpkins are prominently displayed at the grocery store, along with colorful pots of the season’s most celebrated flower, chrysanthemums. Front yards in my urban neighborhood sport dried corn stocks, while the nearest farmland is at least a twenty- minute drive away. Walkways and front doors of homes with young children are decorated with spiders, cobwebs, and life-size, white-sheeted ghosts. New this year are gigantic store-bought balloon-type figures, that when deflated, become unrecognizable as anything but fabric cluttering the yard.
Visiting the homes of older children, you may be greeted by life-size, gory, blood dripping, figures of goblins and skeletons and lawns covered with grave stones marked with the initials RIP. As the costumed trick-or-treat crowd make their way from house to house on Hallow’s Eve, no one mentions that these playful, sometimes scary provocations of horror, are a contemporary version of ancient end-of-harvest rituals that celebrated the spirits of the dead. It was believed, in Catholic communities in Europe that in this transition time between fall and the hibernation of winter, the veil between the worlds lifts, and spirits who had once walked the earth, return on this night.
In a holiday similar to our Halloween, the Day of the Dead ceremonies in Mexico and Latin America, go back to pre-Hispanic cultures, where the dead are still considered members of the community. During Dia de los Muertos, the deceased are remembered and honored, and it is believed they temporarily return to Earth.
Halloween was my children’s favorite holiday. Before they had sorted the trick-or-treat candy, let alone eaten it, they would begin planning for what they wanted to be for the following year. Looks like my 9-year-old granddaughter is continuing this tradition as she excitedly describes her witch costume during our zoom session, including details of the make-up she’ll be wearing. Older grandchildren, now grown have their own positive memories of the costuming ritual played out in communities across the country as they visited relatives at this time of year and their mom when she was being treated at MD Anderson in Houston. I still remember my own children; three-year-old son, Kenny dressed in the red devil costume I made him, carrying a cardboard pitchfork, then seven-year-old Corinne, dressed as a fanged tooth witch, her blond hair hidden by a black wig, and handsome five-year-old Kevin, outfitted as a swashbuckling pirate, cardboard dagger at his waist, (hand crafted by his father.)
During that period in my life, the children’s father was a radio news broadcaster for the 6 and 11 pm news, so for all practical purposes, I was a single mom most every evening including Halloween night. Since handling that night was a two-adult person operation my sister Pat would come to help dress the kids and stay at the house to give out the candy while I took our tribe around the neighborhood.
One memorable year, the scary costumes didn’t keep the evil spirits away from our house. While my sister and I were at our usual agreed upon posts, someone came around the back of our house and through an open window took our purses off the kitchen table. In the aftermath of the celebration, not only were we both out the money that was in our purses, but for several days it was impossible to get a check cashed or have access to a bank account without our stolen identification.
Now all three of my children are grown, and two of them, along with my sister, are “on the other side,” as first nation peoples refer to death. As I place a lighted Jack-o lantern in my front window, I hope the spirits of my deceased relations know, since they are as close to me as my own heart, that I welcome visits from them, on this night or any other.