For the month of October Listing Toward Forty is Listing Toward Halloween, featuring a variety of Halloween posts including many by guest authors. This post is by Robert Isenberg.
Here’s what happens: A friend approaches and says, “Hey, come to my Halloween party!” She is excited. Her eyes bulge. She can’t wait for costumes and games and tons of booze.
“Great!” I exclaim. “When is it?”
“Duh,” says my friend. “On Halloween.”
“Oh,” I say. “Well…”
And now we’re stuck, because I already have plans for Halloween. Actually, my datebook is absolutely crammed with Halloween plans. The parties begin at sundown and continue until dawn. They take place in separate houses in completely different neighborhoods. I’m already dreading the commute from one house to another, partly because I can’t enjoy myself at any given party, and partly because the roads will overflow with drunk drivers dressed as vampires.
Year after year I ask myself: Why does anyone throw a Halloween party on Halloween?
Unlike every other holiday on the Gregorian calendar, Halloween is a genuinely fun time, no matter how old or young you are. As a child, Halloween equals weird outfits and pillowcases full of candy. As a college student, Halloween means sexy nurses and beer. As an adult, Halloween means ironic costumes and slightly more expensive beer. You may be 100 years old with two hip replacements, and Halloween can still be fun; as long as you are physically able to give trick-or-treaters their Kit-Kats, everybody’s happy. Crikey, if you’re 100 years old and still answering the door, you won’t even need a costume.
For most red-blooded Americans, Christmas is stressful and tedious, and New Year’s is full of head-splitting regret. Thanksgiving is routine, and Easter-slash-Passover doesn’t count for much in secular homes. Unless you’re a raging fan of Memorial Day cookouts or Fourth of July fireworks, all these holidays tend to blend together. And unless your uncle and your stepdad get into a fistfight and everybody starts crying, each Labor Day is about as memorable as any other.
But Halloween? Halloween is hallowed, man.
The problem is this: October 31st doesn’t hold much significance to the plastic-trident crowd, so why host a Halloween party on that particular evening? Unless you’re such a diehard Catholic that you’ve already stocked up on All Saints Day candles, Halloween might as well happen the same week as the Super Bowl. Most people don’t even know where Halloween comes from. If Walgreens is selling severed hands and fake cobwebs at the end of August, why would anyone need to wait till October 31st to put dry ice in their punch?
The answer: An actual Halloween party is a status symbol.
If I host a party on October 31st, and all my friends drop everything to be there, then I win. People showed up at my party, not Cindy’s or Webster’s or Jake’s. And if they did hurry off to Jake’s house, because they heard about Jake’s zombie-themed foam party, friends have to apologize and make up excuses and promise to “definitely come back later.” They’ll leave a few bottles of Dead Guy Ale as a peace offering. They will call later, deeply distressed, because they want to come over, but they’re just so tired.
The smart host will anticipate all this nonsense and just host a party the weekend before, or even the weekend before that. You can’t move Hanukah, but you can most certainly reschedule the world’s most arbitrary holiday. Ghouls and demons are timeless, and if you ask me, so are sexy nurses. Earlier in the month, you can buy pumpkins and animatronic skeletons for a song. Friends will come over, stay for hours, and actually enjoy themselves. They get to test-drive their costumes, because the pressure is so low.
“Oh, this?” goes the conversation. “It’s an Atari T-shirt. I’m a nerd from the Eighties.”
“Nice. I’m Charlie Brown.”
“Oh, because the black stripe.”
“Yeah. See, you get it.”
Nice and simple.
Halloween night should be reserved for the people who really appreciate it. No, not Satan’s minions. I mean children. I mean grade-schoolers in rubber masks, who show up at your door and awkwardly beg for candy as their parents glare at you from an idling car. Trick-or-treating is one of the last great vestiges of Americana, and only a total egomaniac would steal that from the hands of 10-year-olds.
One of my favorite Halloween parties was held in mid-summer, at the apartment of my friends Ringa and Maria. The afternoon was sweltering, and the sun wouldn’t set until 8 p.m., so I wore cargo shorts, a green T-shirt, and a bandanna around my forehead. When people asked who I was, I said, “Chuck Norris.” (They loved it).
Nowadays, what Halloween celebrates is neither axe-murderers nor Celtic spirits, but the pleasures of imagination. The act of dressing up, decorating a house, and hosting a vice-driven theme-party is its own reward. It’s a chance to play, just as freely as when we were fourth graders. Imagination doesn’t spark on October 30th, nor is it doused on November 1st. And Candy Corn is delicious any time of year.
Now pass me that skull-chalice. I must toast the creatures of the night.
Robert Isenberg is a writer based in Costa Rica. Visit him at robertisenberg.net.
All Halloween posts from this series can be found here.
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