Thursday, 17 October 2013

Pull on a Halloween Costume and Slip into Another Skin…

Halloween was one of the two cultural events I missed most after living in the US (the other being Thanksgiving). It’s not that I enjoy horror or the macabre; in fact, I’ve never seen a horror movie and have a remarkably low threshold for blood and gore. You might wonder then—if you’re not American—how Halloween could hold any appeal for me.

With co-workers at Jamal's annual Halloween party (1995)
At one time, I might have wondered, too. But Halloween is a day when it’s perfectly acceptable for adults to dress up and be frivolous—something of a return to the days of childhood, complete with imaginings of who you might be in another skin...not to mention the opportunity to eat ridiculous amounts of candy! It’s culturally embedded fun and silliness.

Hard at work: two of the 'Three Amigos!' (1996)
Surprisingly (and unlike any other holiday I can think of) Halloween is more fun if you go to work! It's hard to believe the effort many people go to with costumes, and their willingness to wear awkward and uncomfortable outfits for an entire day.  Even better! Each Halloween affords not one but two opportunities to dress up: one for the day at the office; one for the party at night! (Trust me: all day in one of those synthetic costumes and you definitely have to change before going out.)

Houses decked out in themed decorations and garden paths with movement sensors setting off spine-chilling laughs, creaking doors or thunder claps. Halloween baking; cupcakes and cookies iced with spider webs. The house across the street from us in Mountain View went all out to create the right atmosphere for the intrepid young trick or treaters. They spent days rigging a mock ‘house of horrors’ that ran from the sidewalk to the front door. Music, lighting, props, smoke...

Martina's creative Halloween baking

When we returned from California in 1999, I was keen to celebrate Halloween with my young nieces and son. Not only did I miss the holiday, but my son was American; this was part of his cultural heritage! There was no hope of trick-or-treating at that time, however, because no one would have any candy to hand out!

Not to be thwarted, I invented ‘reverse trick-or-treating’. This consisted of dressing up and distributing bags of candy at each of the houses in the (thankfully small) street. The neighbours were understandably very surprised when they opened their doors, but appreciative! We had a lot of fun dressing up and traipsing around, and my son made quite an adorable pumpkin—even though he really disliked the rustle of tissue paper that filled out his costume.

Four gypsies...and a pumpkin (1999)

In Australia, the popularity of Halloween has grown markedly in the last decade, with Australian stores now stocking Halloween costumes, decorations and candy. I’m not sure, however, that we can ever attain the cultural link which makes Halloween uniquely American.

For me, Halloween is much less about ‘horror’ and much more about the magic of imagination, dressing up and a return to childhood... Ultimately, it’s about the chance to slip into someone else’s skin—and when I think about it, doesn’t that cover just about every book we ever read?

Marielle Rebbechi

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