Jim Ott's Blog

This blog is a collection of columns I've written for Bay Area News Group newspapers serving the East San Francisco Bay region.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Hail to Halloween


This column was published in the Herald the day before Halloween 2007.

When I was a boy, I took Halloween seriously.

My mom recalls that just after my eighth birthday during the first week of October, she reminded me to write thank-you notes for the gifts I received.

“I will,” I promised.

But two weeks later I hadn't written the notes, so she asked me about it.

“Oh Mom,” I said, “how can I write thank-you notes when I’m so busy planning my Halloween costume?”

What I loved about Halloween was the permission to become someone else, to try on different personalities, to dream outside my limitations and assume the profile of a monster, a hunchback, a president.

The year I dressed as Lincoln, I tried out my costume before Halloween by standing on a corner at the end of our block. With a top hat made from black construction paper, I wore my dad’s dark coat and an eye-pencil beard, and I waved to motorists who, after doing a double-take at a pint-sized Abe, waved back.

As a mummy, I wrapped myself in torn sheets, then walked stiff-legged into my sister’s room to conduct a pre-Halloween fright test.

My Frankenstein success one year led to my Dracula triumph the next. My inspiration came from Boris Karloff movies and a stack of monster magazines I adored.

Through it all I discovered my love of drama and illusion. I learned to be resourceful, to use elements of my costumes from one year to the next. And I learned that although I loved playing a selected role in the evening theater of Halloween, I was always content to wake up the next day as myself.

And by the way, not once—as I read some years ago in a letter to the editor—did the earliest origins of Halloween send a satanic spirit to whisper into my ear.

In fact, the first time I read my own words in a daily newspaper was two decades ago when I wrote a letter respectfully disagreeing with a woman who’d written to say that Halloween should be abolished because it encourages the devil and pagan rites.

What’s often overlooked is that in the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 as All Saints' Day to honor Christian saints and martyrs and to replace the pagan harvest celebrations. This celebration was preceded by an evening of bonfires, parades, and dressing up as saints, angels, and, yes, devils.

So our modern day Halloween is derived from an evening grounded as much in Christian celebration as in pagan ritual. For youngsters, such discussion is just grown-ups overanalyzing a fun evening.

And fun is what the children from Dublin’s Happy Talkers and School of Imagination will be having this Halloween when they don their costumes and join Dublin city staff at city hall.

“Mayor Janet Lockhart has arranged for her staff to celebrate Halloween with our children,” said Mitch Sigman, who with his wife Charlene and a team of speech pathologists, teachers, and therapists provides care for youngsters with mental, physical and developmental disabilities. “With city hall decked out for the celebration and the staff in costumes, our children will trick or treat together.”

This is what Halloween is all about—the fun and freedom of stepping beyond our limitations, of gathering and sharing candy with friends, and of becoming anyone we dream to be.


1 comment:

she said...

"For youngsters, such discussion is just grown-ups overanalyzing a fun evening"

couldn't agree more jim

halloween is a holiday for the imagination -your childhood stories here, great testimony to that truth

it's dress up & make believe for whole neighborhoods at a time

add on door to door visits to say hi to each other PLUS the candy...

and i've just witnessed the big school wide halloween parade.. all the kids in their cute and scary costumes smiling ear to ear, high fiving each other -parents with video and digital cameras

i saw nothin' but JOY

great read! ~s.