Sunday, October 9, 2011

Days We Remember All Our Lives

Halloween is one of my favorite Fall festivals. Less pressure than Christmas, it is one of those laid back times when Mums get to play and remember their own childhoods, without having to break the bank, or worry about the table decorations. It’s a real kid’s time, and so evocative, with the nip of Fall in the air and the evenings drawing in. With this in mind, I’d like to share my own memories of Halloween, and how one particular event has stayed with me throughout my life.
Scary! But Not Too Scary!
It is often the ‘low input’ events that remain most powerfully with children, and the family in this story made a night to remember with a few simple household ingredients, some candles, and a book. The most powerful force at work was the child’s imagination.
The memory is of a Halloween party held at a friend’s house. It was scary enough to remain in my memory to this day, but not scary enough to traumatize me for life. Parents! This is the correct balance!
Numerous little girls had gathered at Alison’s, and no doubt we giggled ceaselessly and ran up and down stairs for a while. There were treacle toffees and sausages to be eaten, and biscuits cut into the shape of ghosts. There was dressing up and carving pumpkins going on in various rooms, but in our minds this was all just marking time before the Big Event. We knew what was happening when Alison’s Daddy got in from work, and the excitement bordered on hysteria.
Love Your Competitive Dad
Alison had one of those Dads who threw themselves into events like this. We all know them – it’s a competitive thing really. How big and elaborate can I make this birthday cake? How great is my Santa outfit? How complex was that Treasure Hunt? I love Dads like this. My advice is to embrace this competitive urge in your men and other people’s and celebrate it! Alison’s Dad had a particular fondness for Halloween shenanigans, and such was their renown that the whole neighborhood seemed to turn up and leave their children for the evening (even if they hadn’t been invited).
How to set the mood
The games got underway with Apple Bobbing. I have never quite understood the attraction of this game, but it seemed to be traditional, so I played along. After this the lights were dimmed for the pumpkin lanterns to be lit. They glowed in from the darkness, lending the once friendly living room a distinctly spooky air. We huddled slightly closer together and chewed on our bobbed apples warily. Alison’s Dad came in and sat with us around his feet while he read a really quite scary ghost story. There was a gruesome murder, a ghost who came back to haunt the innocent children who had stumbled in on the scene of a haunting, and the inevitable twist with a BANG! at the end that had us all screaming. Having set the tone for the evening, which left us slightly jumpy, the ‘contest’ began. We occupied ourselves with fake blood and face-painting and those who dared entered the lair (the study) which was candle-lit and fake cob-webby…
What’s Under The Towel?
Ok, it’s not the scariest name for a scary game, but you have no idea how scary those words are to six-year-olds hyped up on ghost stories and toffee apples. In a quavering voice Alison’s Dad, who had transformed through the miracle of costume, into a spooky old man, said ‘Come and see what’s Under the Towel…’ Shrieeeeeek! Various kitchen bowls, covered up with tea towels were lined up. Waiting nervously to go into the lair, our trepidation increased as we heard the shrieks of others. Mwahhhaaaahahhahhhaaaa! Under one towel was a bowl of peeled grapes (“Eyeballs!”); under another some cold spaghetti (“Intestines!”); some rice pudding was insect mush, some broken sticks from the garden were bones, a tinned tomato was a heart.  I am sure you can imagine the scene, eyes tight closed and little hands nervously reaching to see what was hidden from view.
Too Grim?
Goodness! Reading this back now I wonder if it all sounds a little too grim for six-year-olds. But in fact I think it fulfills the function of this kind of festival perfectly. Halloween is a festival of the dead, a night when we play with our fears and make them less terrifying through play. Once the festival is over those fears have been faced, looked at, laughed at and returned to where they belong. This is entirely healthy and good for us. Fairytales have the same psychological function, psychologists maintain. A good fright helps us deal with the unfamiliar emotions of suspense and anticipation and teach us that resolution is just round the corner. We challenged ourselves, felt the fear and did it anyway.
All’s Well That Ends Well
As for the party, when things just got too noisy the lights would come on, the living-room would return to normal and Alison’s Dad was suddenly just lovely Alison’s Dad again, hugging us and handing out sweets. Normality was restored, along with our feelings of stability and security. We had survived the Halloween Party! Yay!
I have never forgotten those silly childhood games, and the fun and excitement of Halloween. This time of year always brings back the memories. I still know Alison’s Dad too. I wonder if he’d throw a party this year for my son…
Dee is a freelance writer and proud parent. She writes on behalf of numerous folk, including a kidsHYPERLINK "" clothes site.

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