Having lived in the US for nearly eight years, there are some local traditions that now feel like normal but one celebration that still gets me every time, is Halloween.
I love to see the neighborhood transform into its ghoulish, ghastly best. This year I took the opportunity to pull out my camera and capture some of the local flair, (checkout my FaceBook & Instagram accounts) but for those who have asked to "bring back the Pisco", here is my 2008 account...
I never understood Halloween growing up. Couldn’t comprehend why, for one day a year, mum would stash tim-tams and minties in a basket for those local kids on “the hunt”. Nor reconcile the kid knocking at the door dressed in a single bed sheet – not sure who was whiter – the ghost impersonator, or his mate when ambushed by my dad with a Dolphin torch under his chin. The fake blood, glow in the dark rubber skeletons and plastic fangs that occupied my brother’s bedroom perplexed me… that was, until I moved to America.
You see Halloween is really something that can only be fully understood if you live through an entire night; and a long evening it can be! Now for those of you who have been living on that 10,000 acre cattle station all your life and never so much as seen a cheap plastic spider ring – here’s a bit of historical context for you.
Halloween's origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred.
On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. The celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints' Day) and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween. Got it?! Righto back to the story…
Last year’s Halloween was an anti-climax for me – sure I saw a few middle aged dads drinking beer while their offspring hunted candy, and the occasional oversized pumpkin hollowed and stuffed with candle light, but this year I surely got an up-close-and-personal look at what all the hype was about.
Like all good retail endorsed celebrations, Halloween is touted as a holiday for kids but in reality is a boon for retailers and adult stores (more on that later). By early September, children’s chain clothing stores are heaving under the weight of every conceivable dress-up outfit. Fairies, goblins and super heroes are joined by zombies, ghosts and the occasional Robin Hood as parents go in search of the elusive perfect outfit.
In the well heeled suburbs, parents strive to create a faster super heroes, brighter princess wands or scarier ghouls, enlisting every piece of glitter, glitz and scrap of paper maché to achieve the latest look for their little one.
Come early October you begin to see cotton “cobwebs” adorning stairwells, spider webs hanging in house windows, the occasional paper skeleton, and of course the obligatory “jack-o-lantern” that graces many bay windows and steps across the city.
I for one, am yet to understand how one vegetable can be used to make the world’s most ubiquitous soup, be served sweet with cream in pie at Thanksgiving AND excavated then lit to scream the bejesus out of small children… but that ‘s another story…
The weeks leading up to Halloween evolve into a race to see who will host the craziest party, which outfit will set the bar for outlandishness, and who’s attending the party in the biggest, highest or weirdest location (Michele K I think you won that one…)
My destination this year was the Upper Haight, where, through the kind generosity of a work colleague I found myself invited to a “Sticky & Sweet” Madonna themed party hosted by a couple of alternative lifestyle chaps – yup! combine the night of the dead with feathers, black ripped pantyhose, a few jello shots and a good dash of Madge’s pointy bits and you had a party to set the rainbow city rocking.
As is with every costume themed party, there was the dilemma on how to unleash the inner Madonna without joining a religious sect or losing 100 pounds; but a Google keyword search, quick shopping trip and cross check with my wardrobe yielded “Music Madonna” complete with waist length blonde wig, generous cleavage, cowboy boots and hat (yes two of these assets were hired and I own cowboy boots and hat…)
The first hint I had at the real meaning behind this night of the dead came when I was in search of the aforementioned follicular augmentation – walking into my neighborhood Variety store, I spotted a young child in a pale pink sheet with small holes cut for eyes and a plastic shopping bag, reaching up to the kind man behind the counter for a “trick or treat”.
Contrasting this 5-minute outfit was her young mother, in steel spike silver heels, a skyscraper silver skirt stuffed with red tulle, supporting a well filled scarlet corset and eye makeup thick enough to repaint the Sistine chapel. Needless to say, heads turned as young dads flocked to ogle the strawberry shortcake impersonator suddenly in need of that must-have power board or hot glue gun that could only be found at a late–night Variety store.
So with blond locks and trashy silver jewelry in hand, it was time for me to throw on the outfit and welcome other members of the party throng for a pre-prandial. Making an appearance was Guy Ritchie – clutching his latest draft of “Snatch”; on the look out for a divorce lawyer and potential rebound hook-up. In tow bounded a spritely Warren Beatty, bearing a baker’s dozen of prophylactics and guide to the decade’s conquests, and what Madonna party would be complete without a Kabbalah bracelet impersonator in full red glory.
We soon knew we were in the right place, when disembarking from the taxi were greeted by a 6’1” man in top-to-toe black leather holding a riding crop, a little too early for the Race that stops a Nation?!
Without revealing too much of the evening’s antics, let’s just say, in a League Of Their Own, the Material Girls and Lucky Stars were present, Alex Rodriguez was located amongst the pink leotard of a willing Dance floor Confessional and Yoga Madonna was seen cavorting with an unnamed tourist on Holiday.
So with a few margaritas and test tube shots under the belt (and between the cleavage) it was off to the downtown haunt of choice for some real people watching. It’s funny how seemingly charming university graduate, natural blonde lawyer-type lasses suddenly become compelled to don the shortest, skimpiest, trashiest outfits for an evening of cavorting ah yes, that’s right it’s Halloween!!
A few sights you don’t see everyday?! A young Anna Kournikova impersonator in vintage white tennis gear with tongue firmly down the throat of an unsuspecting Scooby Doo; a man dressed as a nun discussing habits with a girl dressed as a priest, and finally a pink sparkly fairy with drunken wings wrapped firmly around Buzz Lightyear – luckily her cosmo wasn’t interfering with his search for “Infinity and Beyond!”.
So with children restlessly tucked up in sugar hallucination heaven, adult costumes hung up (or over the bed head) for another year, and lantern candles extinguished, I have to say Halloween has to go down as one of the best holidays of the year – especially as it doesn’t involve presents or cross country travel!