Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Spirit of Halloween

My favorite time of the year starts today. It doesn't even bother me too much any more that I'm several thousand miles away from where everything that I find so special about the sixty-one days between Halloween and New Year's Eve occurs - the last half of Autumn (no such season in the tropics), the falling leaves, the chill in the air, Thanksgiving and Christmas, food, football, and family.

In a post from last Christmas, "Deck the Halls With Boughs of Nutty", on his own blog at the New York Times, Dick Cavett expressed a certain skepticism of people who try to cultivate what is known as the "Christmas Spirit": "In my case, some affection for the hallowed time has returned markedly, after at least 20 Christmases spent on Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands, happily far from the familiar list of horrors that are part and parcel of Noël in Gotham, my favorite city."

Escaping from the cold and drear of New York City to bask on a Caribbean beach might sound alluring to many readers in a temperate climate in the Northern Hemisphere during the next two months. But to me, looking forward (hyperbole) to my fifth straight Christmas in the Philippines, where everything is evergreen and where a snowflake is only slightly likelier to be seen than in what the locals call "Impiyerno" (a corruption of the Spanish "inferno"), it seems almost sacrilegious. Even if I have no religion , it seems like a contradiction of everything I associate with the season, and completely counterproductive to locating anything close to the Spirit of Christmas. Many people gave up on it when they realized they were no longer children. I hung on to it, as to a piece of flotsam after my life sustained yet another shipwreck.*

What about the Halloween Spirit? I'm old enough to remember when kids went trick-or-treating without their parents, in genuine neighborhoods where everyone knew who lived next door to them, even when some families were what are now known as "dysfunctional". (And they would've been considered creepy if they weren't. We would avoid knocking on their doors Halloween night.)

Since it was the 1960s, there were a few rumors even then about candy laced with LSD. But I never got a candied apple with needles or razor blades in them, even if landing one would get my name in the local newspapers the next day. We used brown paper grocery bags and I waited until mine was at least half-full before I decided it was enough and turned to head for home.

Sure, it was one of those occasions when I learned it was a disadvantage to have a big brother. Easter was another. (I also blame my lack of interest in playing sports on his kicking my arse at every opportunity. He's three years older, and you simply can't allow your kid brother to beat you, even (or especially) at Monopoly. He would steal my chocolate and hand me all his candy corn in one of the worst trade-offs of life.**

And I watched The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown every year since it was first broadcast in 1966. Like Linus, I had an almost mystical reverence for Halloween. Unlike him, I never squandered the big night waiting in some pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin to appear and ascend into the heavens. But the night has a holiness about it for me that has lasted until now - my fifty-fourth Halloween. It probably comes from my Irish Catholic blood. It's an Irish tradition after all.

*Though there have also been some train-wrecks and car-crashes over the years, I've managed to avoid the one plane crash from which no traveler returns.
**Another big one is "age brings wisdom".

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