A guest post by Colleen Sall
The paper is thick, slightly warped, and as it opens, a vague musty smell permeates the air. It is a Halloween scent. The peaks of the roof appear, then close up again, unsteadily as small hands work at opening the shape, and at last, the bottom is flat on the table, the entity within is finally fully unfolded. It is an image of a Victorian home in ruins, its inhabitants full of ghastly glee.
It is dark, just after sunset, in the world of the haunted house as it sits on my table. The trees look extra dark against the dark blue stiff paper sides of the house. Their bare branches wrap around the house, cover the windows, suggest scraping the wood pulp glass on a windy, unsettling night. Bright eyes, wicked smiles, shine brightly from inside the doorframes and windows. They look crazed, ecstatic in their joy that their “Fly Your Freak Flag” holiday is coming…
This IS Halloween!
I’m describing one of the Halloween decorations of my youth. I remember being five years old trying to release that pop-up haunted house, and for me, it was a table centerpiece extraordinaire. It was truly a work of art, in my recollection. The old, once grand house itself was painted in detail, with bark showing on the trees, chipped boards on the side of the house, small leaves on the extended branches, spider webs on the crumbling porch rail and unique facial attributes for each monster or ghost looking out of the rooms within. The roof had bats flying across it and crumbling, missing shingles.
The wild, weedy yard had a deteriorating picket fence with jack-o-lanterns framing its entryway, laughing maniacally at the painted moon that had popped up when the haunted house was unfolded.
We also had art deco black cat face wall decorations, their wild eyes wide and outstretched and frozen, looking left or right, not unlike the famed kitty clocks whose eyes moved back and forth with their pendulum tails to track incessant time.
Skulls, made of painted cardboard, contained relief-embossed cracks in the bones. Their tissue paper, spiral eyes glowed when placed in the windows of my house. Three-dimensional wax skull heads had red, dripping candles melted atop, nestled into their cranium bases, probably exactly like Merlin would have used.
A large, life-size cardboard witch with movable arms and legs and red and white striped leggings hung on the back door. Her mischievous smile and warty nose looked friendly but I didn’t feel I could trust her and I avoided walking past her!
An orange and black plastic scarecrow standing next to an enormous pumpkin was plugged in and cast an eerie, gentle glow in the hallway where it was placed. It was a spooky site, but comforting in its warm light and friendly jack-o-lantern scarecrow face.
There most certainly was more décor in our home, but those are the ones that I remember best.
These decorations were stored neatly in our basement in cardboard boxes, but they always developed that slight musty fragrance in their off-season places of respite. They possessed an odor that I knew would not normally be pleasant…but tied to Halloween, it was almost like a welcome musk as the decorations were pulled from their storage spot and set out to make their magical annual appearance.
And these early memories were just the beginning of my love affair with Halloween, which continues to this day.
For me, Halloween conjures up thoughts and images of that dreamy world between sleep and reality, of a slightly scary yet comforting world of magic and delights for the emotions and senses.
That otherworldly magical feel infuses me as I look at Halloween images of all kinds, from Victorian greeting cards to modern ceramics and everything in between. I don’t include horror images in my repertoire of thoughts, for those are simply disturbing – I write now of just the spooky, just the magical.
This is a season of delights – of crisp cool days and nights. Of the overwhelming beauty of bright colored leaves that envelop you in their glow as you walk among them, listening to the leaves crunch beneath your feet (or as you jump into them!).
The pumpkins and gourds match the glow of the leaves, strategically placed on farm stands and in displays in front of houses on hay bales with seasonal flowers, corn stalks, scarecrows and Halloween characters nestling in around them.
The sunsets are deeper and more orange. The sky is yellow on the horizon after the setting sun, then higher up, light blue, then dark blue and eventually black as the light of the stars stare at us below, their lights like white pinhole eyes in the sky.
The Harvest Moon is large, imposing…magical. It illuminates behind the bare trees, sending its glow into the darkening sky. It is a fairy-tale orb that I could stare at for hours, getting lost in its gentle light.
Scenes and scents of bonfires, patchouli candles, hot cider bubbling in pots, apple cider donuts being prepared with sugar and cinnamon and caramel apples dripping with rich, golden caramel tantalize our senses.
Ghost stories, haunted trails, spooky houses, hayrides and festivities abound, helping us celebrate and revel in all things eerie. We love the thrill, we cuddle each other up for comfort from the scare and from the coolness in the air.
So many parties abound and we dress up, and assume the role of someone else for a while. Whether scary, funny, political or idyllic, we allow ourselves to be consumed bodily into something else for a while – we allow ourselves that slice of the mystical Halloween experiences.
It all culminates with Halloween. The day itself – the night most of all – gives us the climax to the building bliss that we have been anticipating.
It’s not joyous and holy like Christmas or Easter. It’s not lovey dovey or grateful like Valentine’s Day or Thanksgiving. It’s not merely a rollicking party like St. Pat’s or Independence Day.
It’s a little bit naughty. It feels a little, well, heathen – because it is. Halloween lets us dapple a bit in what is dark. To face our fears and conquer them. To enjoy spooking others. To be something we are not for a day (or night).
It is thrilling.
It is the final celebration of the land before the cloak of late autumn descends with its frosts and stray snowflakes. It marks the end of the growing season, as it has for centuries in its deeply pagan roots.
There are those who bear disdain for it. They find it too creepy, too violent, anti-Christian, annoying (trick-or-treaters), etc. I cannot agree. But all are entitled to their own opinions.
I for one am glad that I find this holiday an enchanting, euphoric and a dream-like experience.
If you’re reading this, I would expect that you find something meaningful in this mysterious, arrestingly peculiar holiday. With that in mind, I bid you the Happiest of Halloweens this autumn!
About Colleen Sall: “I’m a Halloween fanatic. Well, I DO know a few people who push that Halloween enthusiasm further than me, but compared to the average person, I’m a zealot. My house is always fully adorned inside and out, we enjoy Halloween-related festivities the whole month before and on All Hallows Eve itself we host a shindig for all the kids, parents and anyone who wants to stop by – going on 10 years strong now. Halloween has always evoked feelings and emotions within me on so many levels – it has an enchanting, mystical hold on my soul that at times is simply beyond words.” Read more by Colleen Sall on her blog Raising Teens Right. Follow her on Facebook or LinkedIn.
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