Oct 31, 2009

Halloween: THE American Holiday

Today is Halloween. Do people celebrate Halloween in other countries? I could take a few seconds to Google it, but I’m too lazy. I’ll choose to remain ignorant.

I love how everyone in America passes out free candy every Halloween night without giving it a second thought. Why has no generation ever stopped it? I’ll tell you why. It’s because everyone puts their weirdness aside on this one night just to make little kids happy. What a sweet holiday.

Anyone can trick-or-treat in this country, regardless of your race, creed, or religion. Correction, they do discriminate when it comes to age, but I’ve gotten around that by choosing good costumes to hide my age. For example, I’m 44, so I’m going out this year as a 43-year-old.

Halloween is something Americans take for granted, but for any immigrant, especially those of us who came over in our youth, the holiday is just one more thing that makes this country magical. I was in the first grade when I came to America. Kids at school told me that you just knock on people’s doors and people give you chocolates, candy cigarettes, Milk Duds, and more. Free of charge. No strings attached. My imagination ran wild as I envisioned our kitchen being so full of treats that we couldn’t even move around.

My mom worked at the Woolworth’s five-and-dime store, so she took us there to buy costumes one night. “Choose any one you want,” she said.

The selection was sparse, as most of the costumes had been sold. My sisters probably chose princess costumes, but I spied a very special outfit that was calling to me, and somehow there were lots of this one costume left. It was Nancy. You know, Nancy from the newspaper comic strip? She was a character who made her debut in the 1930s. (I wasn't alive yet.) The comic strip rose to great success, especially in the 1960s and 1970s. Nancy was simple, innocent, and maybe not so funny, but I was all those things too, so it was fate that I was drawn to her costume.

I put on my Nancy outfit as soon as I got home and immediately went door-to-door in search of candy. People looked puzzled when I said, “Trick or treat." Maybe I was doing it wrong. The elderly neighbor lady gave me some ribbon candy left over from the previous Christmas. I got very few treats, but I did get a proposition from two creepy men who lived in the basement of our apartment building. I turned them down. What they showed me wasn’t candy. That’s when I figured out it wasn’t Halloween night. You have to trick-or-treat on a specific night. Good to know. I logged that important tidbit in my diary, lest I make the same mistake twice.

Undaunted, when the real Halloween night came, my sisters and I raced from door to door, looking for treats. The adults would make comments as they opened the door and looked us over. “Oh, you’re a witch; what a cute princess. . . .” Then they’d look at me questioningly, apparently disgusted by my choice of costume. “And what the hell are you?” one asked. (That's a direct quote from Father McCleary.)

“I’m Nancy from the newspaper,” I’d chirp. People would sigh, as if I had wasted their time. In those days, no one was too happy to see an immigrant to begin with, but one with an Indian accent who didn’t even know what to dress as for Halloween seemed to produce a lot of “tisk-tisk” type sounds. One pregnant woman punched me, and many a door was shut in my face right after my sisters were fawned over and given extra treats. It was a tough neighborhood.

But I didn’t care. I had candy, and I felt invigorated. I looked past the threatening taunts of “Go back to India!” I ran from house to house with the breeze flowing through my hair, giddy from the fumes of the lead-based paint on my cheap, plastic Nancy mask. I'd pull it off my face to get air from time to time, but suffocating or not, I kept going. In those days, there were no Halloween curfews, so the night went on and on. To this day, I can’t remember a happier night in my life. Not my wedding night. Not the night my first son was born. Not even the first time I went to a Taco Bell. This was something more special than all of that. I felt so happy that I wanted to shout it from the rooftops, and that’s just what I did. I yelled things like, “Happy Halloween!” and “Only in America!”

When I got older, I continued to trick or treat into my teens and learned of another perk of Halloween. Annabel (my sister) and I kept going back to one particular house just to see the gorgeous guy who was answering the door. We had already knocked twice within the last ten minutes, when we knocked again a third time. This time, the man was annoyed, saying, “Haven’t you girls been here twice already?” That’s the day I hung up my Nancy costume forever! Thanks for nothing, good looking guy.

Now when Halloween comes around, I look at those little kids dressed as ghosts, goblins, and princesses and I’m horribly jealous. I want the candy. I want to rip their little masks off and run away with their bags of chocolates, but each generation gets its turn, so I fight such urges and the voices in my head. I just answer the door, dutifully distributing the old cough drops and expired medications we cleaned out of our medicine cabinet the week before. Happy Halloween everyone. It is your patriotic duty as an American to appreciate this holiday, so enjoy it!
-- Jackie

P.S. Thanks to my youngest son, Roberto, for putting Monster Mash, the only Halloween song I know, on this blog. The Nancy comic strip was provided by my oldest son, Hans. My middle son is a dud.


I knew it was YOU giving out those sticky old lozenges to the kids. You should be ashamed!
-- Angry neighbor

I said "heck." -- Fr. McCleary

Let's see, you're from India, your son is Hans and the other is Roberto. This has got to be a disfunctional family after all. Can't wait to see what you do for Christmas. You do celebrate Christmas don't you or are you Indians of the Jewish religion? -- Anonymous
I lied about being from India to throw you off. It's easier to pretend to be one of 1.7 billion people. I'm really from Liechtenstein, but if I told everyone that, it would be easy to guess my identity. There are only two of us Liechtensteinians with sons named Hans. And, no, I'm not Jewish, but I love latkes! -- Jackie

Just to let you know, Halloween in the UK is awful!! No kids came to my house trick or treating!! It's pathetic. -- k-bomb