Today on the “What Halloween Means To Me” countdown, we’re gonna hear from Amanda Jubb. Amanda is a Cellmate who grew up just outside of Savannah, Ga and now resides in merry old England. I actually met her when I was dating her sister. Once her sister became just somebody that I used to know (that reference is for you Daniel), Amanda and I remained friends. To tell you the truth, she helped talk me through some really tough times, so she'll always have a special place as far as I'm concerned. Anyway, her response is kinda personal to me, because her and I share the common background of being raised in a very religious family. True, mine wasn’t quite as extreme as hers, but I absolutely get what she’s talking about. What better day than a Sunday to explore how an ultra-religious upbringing colors ones perception of Halloween? Take it away Amanda…
“I suppose I should preface this by saying that I was raised in a fairly strict, very Christian, Pentecostal family. On Christmas, we had a cake and sang Happy Birthday to the Baby Jesus. Easter had nothing to do with bunnies of any sort (and was called Resurrection Sunday in our house), and New Year’s Eve never involved any champagne or spirits; but rather overnight prayer meetings and getting drunk on the Holy Spirit. In light of all that, it seems somewhat odd that we celebrated Halloween at all—and indeed, we were absolutely forbidden from dressing up as demons, devils, witches, warlocks, rock stars, or anything else remotely “Satanic”—but dress up, have parties, and go trick-or-treating, we did.
To some extent, no child raised in America can avoid Halloween anyway. For decades now, October has been a month-long fest of horror movies, Halloween specials in TV shows and cartoons, and scarily surreal commercials. As a child fascinated with vampires since I first saw the Count on Sesame Street, I always began looking forward to the month of ghoulish glee sometime between 4th of July and the first day of school. And it seemed that there were new pleasures with every passing season: the summer I got a black cat, the year I learned that in the sequel to Gone with the Wind, Scarlett O’Hara has a daughter on All Hallows Eve, the one October where I had strep throat and missed over a week of school, yet recovered sufficiently that my mother let me wear my (sadly not a vampire) costume and knock on the doors on our street (in spite of my temperature, which was 102 F). As far as I was concerned, Halloween had the kind of magic that I suspect Christmas might have… say, to children who grew up believing in Santa Claus.
But looking back, I imagine most of it was timing. My sister and I both had birthdays in the first week of November, and Halloween was the closest holiday: sort of like a national celebration of our turning a year older. That was also roughly the time that The Coastal Empire State Fair came through Savannah, and since our dad took us to that every year from about the time he and Mom split up, we almost always wound up at the Fair on one of our birthdays or Halloween itself. Under the circumstances, it would have been impossible not to feel festive.
Then, of course, there was the general business of Halloween. I can’t imagine the child who doesn’t like to dress up, go out after dark, and get bagfuls of delicious treats. Equally exciting, at least for me, was the ritual candy-swapping once we were back home. Finding other candies too sickly sweet, I myself was a chocolate-and-peanut-butter connoisseur. My little sister, always happy to trade the bulk of her Milky Ways and 3 Musketeers and Reese’s Pieces, etc, for some more jelly beans and candy corns and Skittles, found these negotiations as satisfying (and tasty) as I did. Haunted Houses, of which there were usually several in our neighborhood, I found thrilling and delightfully taboo, as they were generally crammed full of all those signs of evil against which we’d been warned so diligently. Finally, as my mother was never the sort of grown-up to have a Halloween party herself, our house became a yearly haven for at least half a dozen of our friends (whose own parents DID believe in dressing up—or way, way down—and enjoying a variety of adult treats). Halloween, plus 2 or 3 days either side of it, was simply the most decadent, hedonistic, FUN day of the year, when I was growing up.
And so, to me, Halloween will always be what it always was: the one holiday in the year that was just that. A holiday. Not a “holy” day with some deep spiritual meaning to bludgeon naughty children with, not a religious event to make me feel ashamed of my frivolous, childish desires, not a day for looking out my window at the rest of the world eating, drinking and being merry, while my family headed to church to pray and give thanks and prostrate themselves on the altar of the Lord; but rather, a day of fun and frolics, where mischief-making was allowed and even encouraged, and every aspect of life that was denied a child like me was, if not flagrantly on display, at least alluded to. Ah, Halloween: the religious child’s gateway to the (under)world.”
10 more days 'til Halloween, Halloween, Halloween. 10 more days 'til Halloween, Silver Shamrock.