Friday, October 31, 2008

All Hallows Eve

I remember carving pumpkins on my porch with my father when I was a little girl. We would go to the local patch, seek out the biggest pumpkin we could find and then paint a ridiculously complicated face on him and spend all day slicing and spilling and laughing. 

By the end, I would be covered in sticky pumpkin juice, the seeds would be baking in the oven, and a masterpiece remained on display by our front doors- it was the pride and joy of the Witkin household- for a day at least. I miss carving pumpkins. I miss my dad. We don’t really speak anymore…I wonder if he is still carving
 pumpkins, even if its just for himself.

When I was little, Halloween was centered around trick-or-treating, costumes, and candy consumption. The themes of my world changed during these days. In preparation of, and through Halloween, everything was covered in orange and black, artificial cobwebs with plastic spiders hung from the ceilings of my classrooms, and the neighborhood’s foliage was adorned with ghosts and ghouls and goblins. My mom finally stocked our cupboards with chocolate, which was rare in our healthy household. Bags and bags of caramel, buttermilk, candy corns, and gooey sweet substances were always “hidden” under the kitchen sink in order to be distributed to the trick-or-treaters come Halloween night. It was fall, and the air smelled exactly as it was meant to smell- as it always did in late October- Fresh with the chill of impending winter, but symbolizing the comfort of falling leaves in the remaining autumn sun. 

To me, Halloween always signified the commencement of the holiday season- after the lull of spring’s melting and long summer nights. First came Halloween, and before I knew it- Thanksgiving was upon us, then Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and finally my birthday. “My Holiday Season” and how it worked itself out in my mind. 
It still does.

Halloween has maintained its status as my favorite holiday for this very reason. Contrary to what one would assume, my love for the holiday has nothing to do with scary movies and fake blood- although I’m not opposed. My early Halloweens were the opening ceremonies to everything I held dear…time with my family, the ability to be a child-and nothing else, and a joint feeling of well being and warmth. The holidays- as best as I can describe them- were safe times. It wasn’t summer when I was off on a plane to a summer camp for two months, or sent to a foreign country to learn a new language. It wasn’t early fall when school began anew and our carpools dropped us off and left us in the hands of teachers- and school systems- and girl scout meetings- and piano lessons from dusk till dawn.

The holidays were when I was picked up early from school because someone special had arrived in town, or when we went shopping for new sweaters because our yearly ski trip was approaching- or when I knew that within a few days, I would be sitting in the kitchen with both my cooking grandmothers chopping and frying and slicing- during their annual latke making competition- when my grandpa would be outside smoking cigars with my dad and uncles- and my sister and I would be whispering to each other and laughing quietly in the next room as we made up dance routines to the latest Whitney Houston C.D. 

This was a time when everything was good- everyone was happy and healthy- this was life. We were living it and there was no future. There was only then- all of us there together with a shared understanding that time had stopped- if only for that evening. No one thought of the pain we might bear in the coming years, the losses we would all endure, the changes we would undergo. There were no flailing economies, MBA anxieties, illnesses, worries of global warming. There was just us- and our pumpkins and smiles and innate and true love for one another. Maybe this is how childhood is defined- or maybe it is specific to my childhood- whichever the case, I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.

Every Halloween, my mother would take my sister and I to the costume store- and every year, without fail, I would become so overwhelmed with the approaching choice I knew I would have to make. This still happens to me- it’s why I can’t shop in large department stores- and why I must choose my flavor before I enter the ice cream shop.

I would look forward to costume shopping for days, and inevitably- upon entering the store, I would lose focus- wander away- and spend hours fingering anything with sequins or brightly colored feathers. Every year, in the end- I would dress up as a devil because I never made my choice in the allotted time. Devil was my default. 

So guess what I’m dressing as this year? 
A devil. 
Of course… 

Ask my friend Sebastiaan, who accompanied me on my Halloween shopping excursion yesterday…same thing happened. 20 years later and nothing has changed. I should have warned him before he accepted my invite to come along with me.

More than costumes though, Halloween was about the candy. The excessive consumption of sweet substances- sugar highs- sugar lows- and stomach aches. Moreover, it was about the competition for candy. Who is the best trick-or-treater? Who can get the most out of the plastic jack-o-lantern? I loved competition and I loved candy and I loved being able to stay out past dark- even if I had to be accompanied by someone’s mom. What could be any better? And even though I was a shy child, I was in a costume so I could easily step out of my comfort zone and ring the doorbells of strangers, while begging for miniature colorful packages of the chocolates I was deprived of the rest of the year. And then once it was all over, when our feet were tired and the makeup had run from our cheeks to our chins, and the sequins had fallen off our leotards and dresses- we would go home. I would sit myself on the floor, in the middle of the living room, and dump out my findings- separating and calculating my earnings for hours on end, while eating as much as I could without vomiting. 

Halloween, as most things in life, has its phases. Like growing up- the transition from childhood to adulthood was pretty abrupt. One day, I’m trick-or-treating in peace, and the next? I am told that I’m too old to be a trick-or-treater. I have to admit- I was gutted. It broke my little heart. I think the hardest part about all that, and one of the first lessons of age inequality, was when I was forced to watch my little sister get dressed and go out trick-or-treating with her friends.

But not all was lost. As it never is. A few years later began the new phase of Halloween. I could sugarcoat (literally. Candy corns and all) the essence of teenage/young-adult Halloween, but instead- I’ll be honest. Halloween is now, and has been for the last ten years, about dressing in as few clothes as is legally possible and getting drunk. 
Maybe my mom should have let me trick-or-treat a little deeper into my developmental phase, after all. 

So tonight, in keeping with the tradition that has remained ever since I was too old to knock on strangers’ doors and beg for candy, I am attending a large party. Yes, even in Spain- we manage to capitalize on the American tradition of All Hallows Eve. This evening will be a combination of hundreds of intoxicated MBA students from different programs around Barcelona, friends, local partygoers, and a bunch of random individuals who care enough to share this wonderful American tradition of dressing inappropriately and drinking excessively. 

And as an homage to my childhood- I’m dressing as a devil. Halloween 2008 will undoubtedly be fun- of this I am sure- but it wont hold a candle to pumpkin carving in all my innocence and peace. I miss those afternoons on the porch, and the holidays that came after. And I will continue to miss them, because 
Halloween will carry on, year after year- but those days- the pumpkin carving days- I will never have them back.


Anonymous said...

So poignant and true. Great description of Halloween in the United States.

Major said...

Finally! A post not about ur "MBA Life"! Keep up with that...