One day a few years ago, just before Halloween I heard a song for the first time. It was something my daughter came home from preschool singing, along with some crafts she had made that day. We liked the song so much that we sang it for all the days leading up to Halloween:
Trick or treat, smell my feet
Give me something sweet to eat,
not too big, not too small,
just the size of Montreal.
Until recently, Halloween didn’t mean much to me. I grew up in Europe, on the other side of the world where back in the eighties we didn’t celebrate Halloween. The same goes for many similar traditional holidays, as Poklade and the famous festivals of the nearby Mediterranean, I never participated in.
I experienced my first Halloween euphoria in North America in 2002. I was around young children, who as you know, are particularly interested in this unique holiday. While taking care of them, I never thought of putting on a costume and joining in the holiday. I spent my time enjoying the exhilaration of the children and discussing with others the origin of the holiday: where the name came from, why it was celebrated, etc.
Recently at work, my colleagues mentioned that Halloween was the most favorite holiday for generations born in the late 1970s and early 1980s in Canada. “For us, it was all about the fun!” said one of them. – “And later on we just continued to practice it; some with their kids, some like myself” – he planned on going with his wife to a Halloween party this year. They had costumes and everything prepared for the occasion. He even asked me if I was thinking of coming in dressed up to work on Thursday!?
Seven years ago we had worked together at the same company and we both remember well that Halloween. I showed up to work as if it was any other day, but the moment I opened the door to the office, I unexpectedly stepped into another world. Instead of managers, project leads, technicians and other associates, I spent the day in the company of many interesting personas and creatures: Bob Marley, an Australian, girl scouts, clown, mad scientist, flying monkey, Jedi, and a barbarian. All of them together brought an unusual vibrancy into our ordinary, workday in which, despite the busy pace of our daily tasks and deadlines, we were all feeling more relaxed.
(Julie as a flying monkey; best costume in most opinion)
That day the city of Victoria and its residents had been living in its own world. On the street, at the grocery store, at the bank, in front of the buildings downtown, I was passing by characters from different worlds. Everything was so well done: from the past to the future, real and make-believe, near and far – I had the impression that I was watching a live theatre play out, directing itself before my eyes.
Unfortunately, at that time, I did not find the motivation to climb on the stage and I didn’t do so the next year, nor the next couple of years.
My first involvement in Halloween started with a supporting role. As my daughter was growing up, I realized how much this day meant to her, and naturally, I decided to do my best to please her. She would think of a costume idea, I’d check local stores, browse the Internet, and consult friends who made costumes by hand. I slowly began buying props to decorate the apartment: lamps, candy corns, bats, pumpkins, stickers, etc. Then I started planning play dates with friends. In the beginning, we’d attend daytime celebrations in the local municipality. We walked around with other families collecting candies at local shops, restaurants, travel agencies, banks, and through a senior home. The following year, we didn’t get outside because of rainy weather, so we went to a nearby mall instead. The magic of the holiday was still there even indoors. The shops were all nicely decorated with associates standing welcoming little frogs, dinosaurs, bees, pumpkins and ninjas making kids feel so special.
I now think that the moment when we started going outside on Halloween and meeting other people was the moment that made a big twist in my Halloween story. Three years ago, just a few days before the holiday, without even planning to do so I bought a face mask. I liked its colours, I liked the way it looked on me, but most precious was my daughter’s reaction. The mask helped me to get closer to other characters, to smile and dance all the time and enjoy the day like never before. I knew right away that I wanted to repeat everything next year. When the season came, I pulled a few of my old belongings out of the dressing room, I bought a new hat and just like that, I was ready for a new adventure. That fall my daughter was finally big enough to go out at night trick or treating. We met with friends who lived close by, we added on a few extra warm layers and put on our costumes. We went out with big smiles and hearts full of faith in the night ahead of us.
Despite the fear, that walk was the moment that turned this holiday into a real spell. Along with other neighborhood kids, we knocked on people’s doors, sometimes rushing up the flight of stairs, sometimes sneaking carefully through the scary front yards. Holding on to each other, we didn’t complain about the darkness and the cold we felt. We enjoyed immensely our cordial fellow citizens, who welcomed us kindly with full hands, as we spent the night chatting with passers-by, friends, and other neighbours. We were having such a great time we didn’t want to go home!
Since that evening, we’ve been part of the Halloween show. Every year we are playing new roles agreeing ahead to just one particular rule. We have to do what is needed or ours to do, which means buying or making our costumes, preparing candies, decorating the apartment and picking a place for trick or treating – but the rest is not for us to think or do. The playful spirit of Halloween is the one who is in charge. A part of its magic is that we never know how it will deal with us while trying its best to write a new chapter of its ongoing play.
Last year we had our moment as our family attended our first Halloween school dance. We started off the night as brave superheroes, and we happened to discover our real powers later that evening. We were scared by the darkness in the big school gym, so it took us a while to relax and get on the train with other beings and creatures.
And this year, the spirit visited us earlier than usual. It sneaked in through the back door, in a book ten days before the holiday. Many were surprised when I mentioned that in this book we discovered the bolder version of the song so dear to us. And again we couldn’t stop singing it:
Trick or treat, smell my feet
give me something good to eat,
If you don’t, I don’t care,
I’ll pull down your underwear.
The song further ignited the unsettling pre-holiday atmosphere and took us to the streets where we celebrated again until late in the evening.