Halloween arrives next week and the business of selling Halloween decorations has hit full swing. Before this children’s holiday turned into Big Business, decorations tended toward the whimsically spooky: ghosts and vampires, spiders and bats, black cats and witches’ hats. In the past few years, however, they have grown ever more realistic (I won’t’ say lifelike) and gruesome.
Entertainment Plus Technology
The combination of more detailed TV shows (CSI, NCIS, Bones, etc.) and torture-porn movies (Saw, Hostel, etc.) with modern technology has delivered lawn ornaments far scarier and more macabre than ever before. We have become accustomed to seeing dead bodies in various states of damage and decomposition.
Autopsies, once considered too ghastly for TV, have become a staple of police procedural shows and crime scene investigations. Viewers now understand details that used to be the esoteric province of medical examiners: a broken hyoid bone, a rosy-red skin tone, a lack of water in the lungs or no exit wound, for example.
Halloween decorations followed suit with increasingly detailed ways to create shock and awe, like blood and guts, decapitated heads, ax murders and decomposed bodies. Add the Grim Reaper with full scythe and skeletons crawling out of graves and you have a full cast for a horror movie ready to install in front of your very own home. One house down the road has a lawn full of skeletons complete with a skeletal human holding skeletal dogs on a chain.
A Family of Ghouls
We walked into a Lowe’s home improvement store the other day and found ourselves confronted by a family of ghouls: skeletons in vintage clothes. Their eyes lit up red and they spoke when you walked past. They looked pretty realistic. Technology has brought the dead to life via audio-animatronic figures for the home. For only $200 (plus tax) you can put the Ghoul Family on your front lawn.
As I looked at these Halloween “decorations,” I found myself wondering what happens when kids come home late from a music rehearsal or football practice and find the Halloween display Dad put up so scary they have to take a deep breath before crossing the lawn to their front door.
- Does anyone have nightmares about the grisly nightmares decorating the front lawn?
- Does anyone wake up at night wondering, “Wait, have they turned around?”
- Has any kid ever looked out his bedroom window and asked, “Are they getting closer?”
Storing the Bodies
And what happens after Halloween when Dad puts the ghouls away for the season? Does he store the dead bodies in coffins or just leave them leaning against the cellar wall like the mummies of Guanajuato—preferably in a dark corner?
I picture a Dad somewhere sending his son downstairs to get a hammer or a screwdriver for a home repair project. After a moment of silence, the poor kid comes screaming up the stairs, totally freaked. He can’t sleep for weeks at the thought of dead bodies lurking in the basement.
Have we gone too far? Or am I just being alarmist?
The Origin of Halloween
Halloween originated as the “pagan” holiday of Samhain (pronounced sow-in), which fell at the end of the growing season when the barrier between the real world and the spirit world was supposed to be thin. Samhain honored the spirits of the dead and the Catholic Church turned the following day, November 1, into All Souls Day, which has the same focus. The night before All Soul’s Day was All Hallows Eve, which was shortened and corrupted over the years into Halloween.
The Halloween Web (it’s a thing) tells us that:
“The Celts believed the souls of the dead roamed the streets and villages at night. Since not all spirits were thought to be friendly, gifts and treats were left out to pacify the evil and ensure next year’s crops would be plentiful. This custom evolved into trick-or-treating.”
Taking Things to Extremes
I can’t quite equate displaying skeletons and rotting corpses with honoring the spirits of the dead (or eating candy) but Americans do have a way to taking things to extremes.
I love the light displays that illuminate the front of a house and the clever use of Halloween themes. I also enjoy spooky Halloween music and wearing a costume. My son used to answer the door with a live rat on his shoulder. (Neo was kind of fun. He would follow me around when I was cleaning up the basement and I had to watch out to keep from stepping on him,)
Halloween Decorations on Beacon Hill
Speaking of costumes, I need one to wear when I lead a group on Boston By Foot’s Beacon Hill with a Boo tour. I don’t sew (at all, ever) and I got rid of all my vintage clothes when we moved so I’ll borrowed one from my friend, Janet, who makes Hollywood-quality costumes for science-fiction conventions.
Last year I supported Beacon Hill with a Boo, which involves making sure no one gets lost in the crowd) and experienced the Hill on Halloween for the first time.
I had heard stories but nothing prepares you for the mob scene, the professional Halloween decorations, the houses lit up in green and purple, and the elaborate costumes. It’s a challenge to even be heard in some places, especially around Louisburg Square where the crowds are thickest, the decorations are brightest, and the voices the loudest.
The decorations and the costumes on Beacon Hill tend toward the current, the funny and the innovative. They are designed to entertain—especially little kids—rather than frighten them. I like that.
No One Comes Here
I can go into Boston on Halloween because no one comes to our condominium community. That’s too bad. We have an enclosed area with quiet streets where kids could run around by themselves without overbearing parental supervision. As I said in Halloween Should Be Kids’ Night Out, children want to get chills on Halloween and that’s hard to do when Mom or Dad are standing a safe and comfortable 20 feet away.
In the meantime, I will keep an eye on our neighbors’ grisly Halloween decorations. I think some of them have moved since the last time I went by.