One holiday many children look forward to each year is Halloween.
The chance to dress up in costume and let off steam is a tradition that goes back hundreds of years. Costumes and disguises are planned weeks ahead in preparation for the event. Pets even are included in the dress-up game.
In Alaska, where evening temperatures drop below freezing this time of year, those costumes usually are covered by coats and boots and underneath with winter underwear. This year, though, the weather might be milder than normal based on record low temperatures experienced so far.
Halloween is based on the religious observation of All Hallows, or All Saints, Day.
It is designed to remember the hallowed saints, martyrs and loved ones who have passed away. Earlier practices were intended to drive away evil spirts on the evening before. Bonfires were lit and chants, dances or other demonstrations undertaken as part of the preparation for the more solemn ceremonies to follow. A three-day event was held in medieval England, Ireland and Scotland that involved a parade with lanterns. Held at harvest time, pumpkins were carved to make jack-o-lanterns.
Part of those activities involves solicitation of goodies, with the threat of harm to follow if those were not received. That, of course, was the origin of present-day trick-or-treat excursions through our neighborhoods.
Historians record that youngsters chanted as they walked from house to house, carrying jack-o-lanterns and singing:
“It’s Punkie Night tonight
It’s Punkie Night tonight
Adam and Eve would not believe
It’s Punkie Night tonight.
Give me a candle
Give me a light
If you don’t,
You’ll get a fright.”
Sometimes, unfortunately, the trick part turned into pranks that went beyond the pale. Stunts such as parking cars atop a building, false alarms and doctored candy are dangerous, costly and to be avoided. Fun is fun, but when it hurts someone, it becomes criminal.
In recent years, communities have substituted supervised gatherings to entertain the children—as well as give adults an excuse to remember their own youth.
Large events with entertainment are scheduled and well attended. Held inside, they are a welcoming change from going door-to-door in the cool weather. Watched over, the treats are portioned and carefully checked out.
The Alaska Railroad even hosts a Kids Halloween Train that will run two times on Saturday, Oct. 27. The 2.5 hour round-trip between Anchorage and Indian will feature a magician, crafts, balloon animals, Halloween-themed Bingo, a raffle and coloring contest. Costumes are encouraged and treats will be provided. “Don’t miss this ghoulish good time,” the ARR sponsors urge. Departure times are 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Various organizations host Halloween parties for children, offering snacks, prizes, costume contests and such traditional things as bobbing for apples or using their nose to capture coins hidden in a pan of flour. When those last two events are combined, it is best to not do them in the order listed; a pasty mess can result.
This is also the season for telling ghost stories or watching some frightening movies.
The ECHO recently published an article on Alaskan ghost sightings. Some of the sites listed in that piece might be in line for visits, just in the spirit of the day. Don’t go alone and carry a talisman and potions to ward off evil beings that might be intent on playing tricks.
An impressive Halloween display was put on one long-ago year at the home of the late Birchwood teacher Ivy Matlock. Visitors were invited into a darkened room and instructed to touch items in various containers as she described the scary things they represented. Containers held soggy noodles, olives, hamburger and other harmless items that could easily be envisioned by a wild-eyed child as what was being described. An innovative teacher, she produced innovative students.
This writer has a special appreciation for Halloween. One year, when the holiday fell on Sunday, a local church urged children to go trick-or-treating on Saturday night. An item was printed to alert residents that some children might be showing up at their doors either Saturday evening or Sunday. He on Monday was told that a group of children had come to one house Saturday AND Sunday, asking for treats. When questioned, they responded that “the newspaper said we could do it both nights.” Ahhhh, talk about the power of the press!
On another occasion I decided to enter into the spooky spirit.
When each group of children approached up the long driveway, I hid around the corner of the house and as they stepped onto the porch jumped out, banged two saucepans together and shouted, “Boo!” Years later, one of those neighbor children bought a snowplow and began clearing snow from our driveway. Asked why he would not take any money, he quickly replied, “One Halloween you scared the (expletive) out of me and I never forgot.” Thankfully, we’re still good friends. In lieu of payment, my bride baked cinnamon rolls.
To get people into the Halloween spirit, in 1998 Disney released the movie “Halloweentown” starring Debbie Reynolds, Kimberly J. Brown and Judith Hoag. It is a gripping story, full of tension and mystery, but ends well. Hollywood has done well with the unworldly in such features as The Adams Family, Ghostbusters, Toy Story, FrankenWeenie and It’s the Pumpkin Charlie Brown. Of course, the world-famous series of stories by British author J. K. Rowling detailing the adventures of young wizard Harry Potter and his friends is a must to be revisited this time of year.
By the way, if you really want to treat yourself, your best trick would be to find a charity that has a Halloween benefit and contribute to it.
Next week we’ll get back to reality in our look at Alaska’s history. Meanwhile, put on a costume and enjoy Halloween, take it easy on the sweets, and don’t let the spooks spoil your weekend.