Tricks, Treats and the Day of the Dead

My memories of childhood and Halloween don’t seem to be infused with any sense of loss, failure, upset, commotion or mixed results. It was always fun — and simple. And, as other holidays in the 1950s there were certain recurring traditions. Costumes of course! Hand made or inexpensively purchased with a witch hat or skeleton smock, these costumes were standard fare of an All Hallows Eve or All Saints Eve. Looks from the dead – witches, devils, ghosts or goblins were strongly represented – as were a few common TV or comic book characters like Superman and Roy Rogers. So while many of us remember innocent and less commercial Halloweens, the truth is that even by the 1950s popular culture was seeping into the low key and inexpensive fun.

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We packed little bags of goodies. And while going around the neighborhood families greeted small groups of children they mostly (if not exclusively) knew. Some people went “all out” and served some cider or donuts. Houses had 1 to 3 pumpkins carved with smiling faces and candles inside. The streets of suburbia or the halls of apartment buildings were alive with laughing and sometimes pushing children and some small number of dads (some with flashlights). It started and ended pretty predictably with large bags (pillow cases were often employed) initially empty filled with all that is bad for you and some few apples or pennies that came in those goody bags. Then of course bedtime – perhaps a few parents stayed up with a glass of wine – but I sort of doubt many did. By 9PM it was MORE than a wrap if the children were under 10 and everyone was going to bed and awaiting another entirely predictable day. Hey it was the 1950s and there was no “breaking news” ever!

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While it sounds almost sad in comparison to the myriad of costumes, adult parties and of course Halloween apps to download. This is one holiday that really isn’t all that different from that of our childhood. It is still very much about children, family, and having silly fun – and of course getting some great treats while still avoiding tricks – toilet paper draped on trees or smashed tomatoes were frowned upon both then and now.

There was a time in the 60s up through the 80s when Halloween got creepy in a different way — pins, needles and some poisoning hit the media. Some of the innocence and fun was drained as parents and some older people thought the end of Halloween as we knew it was upon us.

But by the 21st century a traditional tide seems to sweep the country in a good way – as least as it relates to Halloween. TV anchors dress up:

Matt Lauer as Paris Hilton

Matt Lauer as Paris Hilton

Costumes got fancier and yes, single people and adults got into partying, but the mainstream celebrations returned to neighborhood trick or treating and an emphasis on family fun. Of course there is always people going to extremes — think Yandy.com – yuck! I put up some inexpensive silly decorations and plan to be here to greet any trick or treaters.

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My move to Tucson and advancing age has found me ever more fascinated by the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday.

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Maybe because more dead people are closer in age than ever, I find a holiday all about having fun and also honoring the recent dead a winner. My thinking is be there for the young trick or treaters and then pour me some wine while we go look at elaborate or informal shrines and altars — as well as parties in Mexican influenced neighborhoods and restaurants — or hang out watching the Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village with friends.

Halloween is a holiday without guilt, ridiculous family dynamics or overblown competition — add in a big nod to the Day of the Dead and you have a holiday made in heaven. Don’t worry – drama is coming: Thanksgiving is just around the corner.

-Patty