I just don't get Halloween. I try, honestly, I do. I even bought decorative mini-pumpkins this year to add a bit of spice to my autumnal table display (even the fact that I have a table display tells you how much I've changed since moving to Chicago almost two years ago. My former self would be scoffing right now).
Whilst we're on the subject of spice... literally everything here is pumpkin spice flavour from Labor Day onwards when, despite the temperature still being in the 80s, Starbucks insists we should all be enjoying a warming pumpkin spiced latte. And that's just the beginning. Candles, shower gel, coffee creamer, chocolate, even dog treats (I kid you not) - everything is pumpkin spice flavoured. So you'd think that by the end of October my wonderful American pals would all be sick of these ubiquitous orange orbs, but no, next up it's Halloween! Not content with flavouring everything with it, now we have to adorn our front porches with delightfully carved gourds or jack-o-lanterns.
Back in the UK, we were never great fans of Halloween. The Church of England's stance is pretty negative so, as Christians, we never celebrated it. But here in America, Halloween is a big deal and it's not so easy to ignore - unless you want to run the very real risk of your house getting TP'd (a trick whereby your whole house gets wrapped in toilet paper). Another reason we didn't celebrate Halloween in the UK was that, when Son#1 was little, he was terrified of trick or treaters, particularly those wearing scary masks. Add to this the fact that husband has a phobia of clowns - especially scary clowns, thanks to a childhood run in with the BBC test card (if you know, you know) - so he wasn't a fan either.
But in Chicago, out here in the suburbs, there's a distinctly lighter feel to Halloween - for a start, the costumes are far less scary. Last year I opened the door to a kitten, a pineapple and a flamenco dancer, among other cuties. I didn't see a single zombie or scary mask. Son#2, who always loved Halloween, was naturally excited that after years of not being allowed to go trick or treating, he finally got to go for the first time last year, aged 16. With strict trick or treating rules and curfews in our neighbourhood (why can't we do that in the UK?) the teens had an hour to get round as many houses as possible dressed as a mountaineer, a diver and a fisherman - because that's the only costumes they could cobble together last minute! This year, he was a bit more organised and went to a Halloween party dressed as a forensic crime scene investigator.
Here in our hometown, there are whole stores dedicated to Halloween - stocking everything from costumes and candy to ghouls and graves for your garden if you want to go with a scarier theme. Halloween even trumps Christmas as the most popular holiday in candy sales in America, so perhaps it's not all that surprising that even our church hosts a wonderful family event called Trunk or Treat. Last weekend, hundreds of families arrived from all over the area with the trunk/boot of their cars imaginatively decorated and whole families dressed as the characters from their favourite books or as animals or of course, superheros (none of which were scary). If the sugar isn't enough to overdose on, you can OD on all the cuteness.
So perhaps it's time for us Brits to get on board? But I'll be honest, it's still confusing trying to marry my two very contrasting experiences of Halloween. It doesn't help that the history of Halloween is pretty messed up too. Once the Christian occasion of All Saints Day, this celebration seems to have got hijacked and mashed up with the ancient Gaelic festival of Samhain, the pagan All Hallows Eve and even third All Souls Day, with haunted connotations coming from the idea of saying prayers for the dead. So it's difficult to really distinguish what's going on: on the one hand a bit of harmless fun and an excuse to dress up in cute costumes and eat sweets, but on the other, an all-together darker affair that just hasn't ever been a part of my calendar.
One great thing about Halloween is that, with Husband working for Mars, there's no shortage of candy at our house. Last year, our little visitors were thrilled to discover that we were offering full-sized candy bars. We're well stocked for tonight and suspect that we might, once again, be a big hit with the neighbours who have small children! That said, I'm still not 100% on board with the whole thing - I'm not sure what the Scrooge equivalent is for Halloween, but when I heard that a snow storm was forecast for October 31st, I was a teeny bit relieved - snow means fewer trick or treaters. So for this year, I'll be sticking with my pumpkin spice latte and a multi-pack of Mars bars - we might well get snowed in, but at least it's too cold to TP the house!