Halloween is one of the USA’s more recent and successful exports to Western Europe, but to really get into the spirit of the thing it helped us to live in the US. Beginning with our first Halloween here, in 1997, the children took to this fête like ducks to water.
Halloween featured prolonged preparations, like any good fête, and pumpkins. The children spent considerable effort on their costumes, sometimes for months in advance. Halloween wasn’t the only occasion for costumes, but it was a time when they could add to the baskets full of them in their closets. Which they did, most years.
The older boys in particular favored “dark” costumes. Alban as the grim reaper in his photo on the left demonstrates the style. In later years they tended to add more blood and gore: very hard to look at, and more than a little disconcerting for the older generation.
The other preparation for Halloween was locating the pumpkin, and perhaps carving it. There were always pumpkins in front of the house for Halloween, but they were not always carved. Daphné hosted a pumpkin carving for Charlie and Alex in 2009 which produced three wonderful pumpkin lamps, one for each of them.
1999 was our first Halloween all back together: Nick and Tom rejoined us in Santa Cruz in August. It was an enthusiastic year for costumes, and some of us took the Roaring Camp Railroad, the local steam train, on a Halloween ride from Felton, where the railroad makes its home, through the redwoods.
If I remember correctly, the older children were already trick-or-treating with their buddies, which easily took priority over any excursion, however interesting or fanciful, planned by the parents. Marie-Hélène and I took Charlie and Alex on this train ride.
As the train whoomp-whoomped its way through the woods, we watched an enactment of the story of Sleepy Hollow (which neither parent was then familiar with, I think) in a series of grassy glades by the side of the track. Sometimes the train would stop; other times, it kept on rolling as the scene flashed by.
Very cool: Santa Cruz has everything!! One slight problem: the carriage was open, we were in the mountains and it was almost winter! We had not foreseen this and wore lightweight jackets, with the result that we were us all feeling very, very cold before the evening was done.
For a couple of Halloweens in the noughts we went with all the children to the Schutzes’ home further up in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Their son was a good friend of Charlie at Happy Valley School, and the family had regular Halloween parties with guests who were buddies with each of our groups, the older children, the younger boys and the parents. So the whole family could, and did, enjoy themselves at their house.
Then the Schutzes moved away, and the older children began spending most of Halloween partying with their friends: for some reason that appeared preferable to them than their parents. Is that what psychologists mean when they refer to the impaired judgment of adolescents?!
We developed an alternative itinerary with the younger boys. It started with an afternoon visit to downtown Santa Cruz, where merchants pitched in to offer young trick-or-treaters their snacks and candy bars as a collective town festivity. That got the juices flowing, and started filling the candy bags. Unfortunately, I wasn’t often able to make that part of the festivities, because of work. What was more newsworthy for the trick-or-treaters was whan a store ran out of treat before they arrived. Borders (remember them?!) was a particularly poor performer on that level.
But I was normally able to accompany the family on the next scheduled stop of the day, at a friend’s house which served as a base for snacks and evening trick or treating in the neighborhood. For several years, it was the Nasons’ house, which is in a pleasant neighborhood actually in Santa Cruz. A lot of our friends, like us, lived out of town, with no real neighborhood for trick-or-treating.
After snacks, a glass of wine and a chat, the parents strolled around the neighborhood vaguely surveying their children, and the children ran from door to door in a noisy, scurrying group, each accumulating as much candy as he or she could. It was an uncomplicated procedure: smile, hold out bag or plastic pumpkin until a treat was dropped in it, and move on to the next house.
There was a definite heirarchy of treats, some candy was preferred to others, maybe Baby Ruths or 3 Musketeers, maybe M&Ms or Snickers, maybe jelly beans or Starburst. Each hoarded his or her bag or plastic pumpkin for weeks or months afterwards, watching it slowly deplete, unable or unwilling to empty it completely.
What Halloween is all about, kids, costumes and treats!