Halloween 2019

We were talking with three of our grandchildren over Skype a few days ago. They were decorating pumpkins with sharpie pens. They have a large garden and they produced a lot of pumpkins, so there were plenty of options in terms of size, shape and color when they selected one for decoration. I told them that we had decorated our pumpkin with snow this year. They laughed at the idea and wondered what a snow-pumpkin-man might look like.

There have been plenty of years during our marriage when we didn’t have a pumpkin at all for halloween, We observed the tradition of carving pumpkins when our children were little, but when they got older, the tradition wasn’t practiced as something that we had to do every year. We also tried to teach our children that pumpkins are food and that, if treated properly, could produce a tasty side dish. This year, however, we have a large pumpkin which I placed in our wheelbarrow. Our daughter bought it for a few photo opportunities with our grandson when they were visiting earlier this month.

According to Wikipedia, the ancient Celts were among the first to carve faces into gourds and place lights inside to make a strange lantern. The tradition apparently grew out of the practice of making lanterns to light the way to huge bonfires that were lit to drive out evil spirits on autumn nights during the season of harvest.

There are many things about the observance of Halloween that I don’t fully understand. We’ve never been much for large public displays. We don’t make a big deal of decorating our house. When our children were living at home, we allowed them to do a bit of trick or treat, but we tried to avoid too much excess. When the candy came home, we set limits about how much could be consumed at a time.

Others make different decisions. I go a lot of places where adults are really into costumes and decorations. There is a fake skeleton in the waiting room of our doctor’s office, dressed in hunter camouflage, complete with an orange vest and cap. The decoration seems most inappropriate to me given the fact that every year at this time our Search and Rescue squad is called out to look for missing hunters. Hunters get lost. They have accidents. And some of the searches don’t end happily. I’d rather have my doctor’s office display a higher level of professionalism and sensitivity to the feelings of those who might have experienced loss or tragedy.

We have neighbors who have decorated their houses with all kinds of fancy lights and decorations. Despite the fact that we live in a place where there is a lot of wind, inflatable decorations seem to be popular. I wonder how much those decorations add meaning to the lives of those who put them up.

It seems to me that there is plenty of room in the holiday’s observance for a wide variety of customs and traditions. Even when others do things I don’t fully understand, I am happy to be a part of a community where there is great diversity in observances and traditions.

Recently I read a short article by a friend and colleague warning about excessive cultural appropriation in Halloween costumes. The author was cautioning against dressing up children in costumes that reflect traditions that are not their own. I understand the concern, but I also know that many holidays, especially Halloween, are huge mixtures of cultures and traditions. I guess I have a bit of Celtic heritage, so maybe it is appropriate for me to carve a pumpkin, but what about those who come from other traditions? Are we unwilling to share ours with them?d

My friend mentioned specifically Day of the Dead costumes. She asserted that those who have no Hispanic heritage have no right to appropriate the traditions and costumes of a culture that is not their own. As I read the article, I wondered where the point of cultural appropriation takes place. I suspect that the children who are wearing those costumes have gotten the idea from the popular animated movie about the Mexican tradition. “Coco” tells the story of a little boy and his quest to learn his own culture and tradition. If a child who has no Mexican heritage dresses up as a character from Coco, is that child stealing another’s traditions, or acting out a fantasy from a movie? Is that inherently different from choosing a character from another movie, such as “Beauty and the Beast?” Is is cultural appropriation for those who are not from France to dress up as a character from a movie based on a French novel? Perhaps making the movies and telling the stories is an act of cultural appropriation.

Last Saturday there was an event for children at Storybook Island, a popular park in our town. The parking lot was full and some of the parents bringing their children to the event had to park across the street. I happened to be driving by as some of them were crossing the street. It was a cold and blustery day. I sat in my warm car and waited and watched as a miniature parade of characters in costume crossed in front of me. There were many characters from stories and movies. I saw little storm troopers from Star Wars and tiny ballerinas and a host of different costumes from a wide variety of sources. I was impressed by the creativity of the parents and others who had collaborated with the children to make the costumes. The children seemed to be having a great time and genuinely enjoying the activities. It seemed like good fun and watching the children made me happy.

I’m reluctant to offer too much criticism of those children, even those whose costumes reflect cultures and traditions that are different from their own. Maybe dressing up and play acting is a way to become more culturally sensitive. Certainly we have a responsibility to be sensitive to the cultures of others and to teach our children respect for others, but sometimes just allowing them to have fun can be a good way to learn those lessons.

However you celebrate, Happy Halloween. May your celebration be safe and fun.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!