When Did Halloween Become Such a Huge Deal?
Halloween 1979 – a simpler era
Published in ChicagoNow, October 31, 2017
When did Halloween evolve into such a huge deal? I have a hard time remembering much about Halloween from my childhood. Perhaps that’s because I am trying to dredge up memories from 60 years ago. Once, I asked my mother what costumes I wore for Halloween, and she informed me that it really wasn’t a big deal when I was a kid. In fact, she didn’t think I went trick or treating until we moved to the suburbs in the 1952.
I do remember my younger brothers dressing up as… hobos. How’s that for politically incorrect and a total throwback to another era? I doubt kids today have ever heard that word, which is a good thing. My mother would make mustaches for them with blackened cork and tie a bandana filled with newspaper to a stick. I’m pretty sure I went with them as babysitter, which was no costume at all. I did host one Halloween party as a teen and remember dressing as a doll. No comments please. Those were different times.
By the time I had three kids of my own, Halloween was a holiday that required costumes and trick or treating. Luckily for me, the costumes didn’t have to be elaborate. Plastic ones were all the rage. Also, pajamas that could be used for sleep after October 31. I think my son went as a generic Chicago Bears player for multiple years. Just a jersey and helmet – so simple. My daughters were figure skaters and, being a practical mom, they repurposed costumes from prior ice shows.
We decorated our house by carving one pumpkin and putting it in the front window, lit with a candle. My kids got to wear their costumes to school, at least when they were younger. And they went trick or treating to neighbors’ homes. That was it. The whole thing took up a day to choose the costume (except for my son – he didn’t even have to think about it) and a day to carve the pumpkin.
Fast forward to my grandkids’ generation. Halloween is a huge deal. Costumes need to be considered months ahead and ordered online if there is not an acceptable one at Target. Plastic is out, and my grandsons would never be happy being a generic anything. In fact, we took two of our grandsons to a Halloween store this year. If you have never had the pleasure of going to one, it was amazing. They selected ninja swords to go with their costumes and picked out decorations for their house. Even setting limits on what they could choose due to price and appropriateness, this was a costly venture.
This year, for my grandsons, we will have one Dracula, one Flash, one Silver Ninja, and one Bumblebee Power Ranger. The girls are a bit more high-maintenance about this. Now that they are older, princesses are uncool. A black swan (as in ballet), a Hocus Pocus witch (think Bette Midler) in a long green dress, and a scary whatever with blood and a black wig are the current plan. My kids don’t spend a fortune on these things (they easily could), but the planning consumes a lot of time.
Then there is the issue of decorating the house and carving the pumpkin. Driving down my daughter’s block, I see every house decked out with spider webs, spiders, skeletons, a few witches (LOL – that’s politically incorrect), ghosts, scarecrows, graves, and other creepy stuff. The Halloween-Industrial complex must be in seventh heaven. And one pumpkin is no longer enough. Each home is graced with several and some are decorated with spray paint, elaborate designs, and intricate carvings. Apparently, you can Google this or look on Pinterest or YouTube for thousands of ideas.
Even trick or treating, which used to be pretty simple, has changed. It used to be that you got a lot of candy and you ate it. The only controversy was if your parents let you horde it or made you eat it quickly to get it over with. But now it’s hard to decide if it’s safe to take candy from folks you don’t know. And you rarely see kids going from house to house without parents accompanying them. So even this aspect of Halloween has become more complicated.
There’s a part of me that loves the new Halloween traditions. Every year, I want photos of my grandkids in their costumes. They look so cute. But part of me wishes Halloween were less demanding of my kids’ limited time. And another part of me wishes that Halloween, like every major holiday, were a bit less commercialized and costly.
Do I sound like the Halloween Grinch here?