Halloween reminds how our lives have changed

Published 5:45 pm Tuesday, October 27, 2020

I’m not sure how parents are going to handle Halloween this year, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they will undoubtedly be challenged. Here’s hoping that, whatever they do, their young ghosts and ghouls have a good time.

I have heard about some creative ideas, including the construction of chutes that are placed at the front door. When trick or treaters appear, a bag of goodies is sent down the chute. Social distance is maintained, the candy’s delivered, and all is good.

A pirate enthusiast (my son) was even talking about building a spring-loaded cannon that would launch the candy. Aargh, mateys.

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Halloween had its roots in the Christian liturgical calendar — All Hallows Eve — but it has evolved into a purely secular annual funfest. There is, in short, nothing religious about it, but also, in my view, there’s nothing sacrilegious about it either. It’s just fun and a bit outrageous, and we all need that in our lives occasionally. And perhaps more so this year than ever.

I am deeply sorry that the two-decades-old Safe Trick or Treat in Downtown Smithfield had to be cancelled thanks to the virus. That was clearly the right decision, but one more regrettable limit to our activities.

In fact, the contrast between Halloween this year and years gone by might well symbolize how much our lives have changed thanks to the virus. When we were Halloween age during the 1950s, mothers tried to curb our excesses by hosting Halloween parties, usually tied to collecting money for UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund) rather than candy. We always managed to get candy as well as a few nickels and quarters for the fund, then gathered at the town social hall for the party. Showing up at the party provided a head count of kids, ensuring that we were off the street and, hopefully, not in trouble.

During the after trick-or-treat party, we participated in what will likely never be seen again. In the middle of the room was a large No. 3 galvanized wash tub filled with cold water and apples, and we took turns trying to bite into an apple in order to lift it from the tub. Bobbing for apples, it was called. Can you imagine parents today letting their children stick their heads, one after another, into a tub of water to try and bite down on an apple that the kid before them had already slobbered over?

Halloween for some meant a trip to the Five-and-Dime store to buy a mask, if not an entire plastic costume. But back then, as now, the best costumes were generally homemade. Some old bib overalls, a bit of soot on the face and one of your father’s old felt hats could approximate a hobo (we even knew what a hobo was back then), a sheet could quickly hide a ghost, and an eye patch and stick sword could turn you into a pirate. I was a big fan of Zorro, a popular television swashbuckler of that age, and my mother dutifully dyed an old sheet black to provide a suitable cape. A weathered, black cowboy hat, its brim ironed flat, rounded out the costume.

Whatever our costumes, a group of us usually managed to get into some minor trouble before Halloween ended each year, UNICEF party notwithstanding. I don’t advocate youthful lawlessness today, mind you, but Halloween did allow us to vent some youthful energy without too much adult supervision. And that, every once in a while, doesn’t seem to be a bad thing.

John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is j.branchedwards@gmail.com.