It’s still only August. But, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t already excited about Halloween.
Up the street from my house, there’s a tree whose leaves have prematurely turned orange. I consider it a sign. But, perhaps it’s just our dry summer that is to blame. I mean “thank.” At Michael’s craft store, the shelves have been filled with skulls, ravens, and tombstones since mid-August. I’m trembling. Not from fear. But anticipation.
I’m not a kid anymore. But, I still look forward to Halloween every year. Just like Jack Skellington himself, I start my countdown on Day 364. For most people, Thanksgiving or Christmas is their favorite. So, what is it that makes me so excited about the holiday that’s only the third most popular?
One aspect of Halloween that makes it so appealing is that there’s no expectation of a gift exchange. Christmas can seem so commercialized. But, with Halloween, there are no wish lists to check off, and no mall crowds to wade through. (Note: I would not refuse it if you were to gift me some Halloween socks. I have eight pairs. And, no, that’s not too many. There’s no such thing.) This no-pressure, buy-nothing vibe is one of the reasons my friends cite for choosing Thanksgiving as their favorite holiday. But unlike the food coma that turkey overeating can cause, on Halloween you can catch a fun sugar buzz!
The main reason I love Halloween though is for its opportunities for creative expression. As a professional artist and graphic designer, I spend my days working on a variety of projects in assorted materials. Halloween is the perfect excuse to get my hands dirty. Handmade cards, custom-carved pumpkins, and haunted yard decorations — these are just some of the things I love to make as October 31st creeps closer.
Since childhood, I have had a mild obsession with spooky things. My best friend and I would build “haunted houses” in my basement, trying to capture some of the magic and chilling theatrics of the Haunted Mansion at Disney World — a place I got to visit with my family one summer. I even bought the Haunted Mansion board game. We also had the Disney record/storybook narrated by Thurl Ravenscroft (of Tony the Tiger and “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” fame). I played that record until I could mimic every moan, groan, scream, and shriek at precisely the right moment. The extra pops, scratches, and skips in the vinyl — caused by excessive playing and replaying — added even more aural spookiness. In those days, strobe lights and talking skulls were not sold in every store the way they are today. So for our haunted house, we had to make all the props ourselves. To create a “lightning” effect, we had to flick the light switches on and off manually. To simulate ghost sounds, we would rattle chains and wail through a cardboard paper towel tube. From the upstairs room above our work space, my father would scare us with a ghostly groan through the air conditioning vent which echoed eerily through the house. The first time he did it, we thought that we’d inadvertently summoned actual ghosts who were coming to steal our souls. But, we finally caught on that Dad was just trying to add some extra spirit to the mix. My friend and I would take turns portraying the haunted house’s characters. One of us would play a ghost or zombie. And the other would be the spooky guide — holding a flashlight below the chin as we would lead our parents through each section of the attraction. The adults would play along and pretend to be terrified. As soon as we had taken someone through, we would tweak the performance and reset it for our next guest. We would typically make the grownups go through more than once, assuring them that the next trek would be even scarier than the last.
When I purchased my first home in 2001, I saw a tremendous opportunity. Not only would I get to leave behind my noisy apartment neighbors. But as a homeowner, I finally had a big street-facing window to put zombies in, a lush green lawn where I could build a graveyard, and a scary dark walkway by which I could hide some severed plastic “limbs.” I had grand plans of finally building the air-compressor-powered “Trash Can Trauma” that I’d always wanted. I would make my own “Flying Crank Ghost” and motion-triggered props. Sadly, my dream of creating the ultimate yard haunt dissipated like cemetery fog. I discovered that my neighborhood isn’t very popular with trick-or-treaters. Either that or kids just don’t go door-to-door any longer — opting instead to get their candy at the neighborhood shopping center where merchants wear costumes and dole out sweets during daylight to the ToTs.
Since there are so few kids to enjoy the sights and sounds, I’ve pared down my Halloween décor quite a bit over the years. Gone is the graveyard. The juice in my fog machine has dried up. I’ve retired my zombies. And I’ve given away most of my plastic spiders. (The only spiders left are the real ones that try to capture me every morning as I walk out my front door.) I still hold out hope that one day I’ll have the coolest Halloween house on the block. But, it might take a move to a new neighborhood for that wish to come true. For now, I am content to re-watch “Shaun of the Dead” or “Zombieland” on Halloween night. I’ll answer the door once or twice for the random trick or treater who comes along. And I’ll end up with a ton of leftover candy at the end of the night. Which is completely okay with me. A good sugar buzz is great creative fuel for my next art project.