Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Halloween

IMG_0707When I was a kid, I thought it was quite a fun and amazing thing that we could dress up in costumes on Halloween night and knock on the doors of our neighbors and basically demand that they give us a treat or we would “trick” them–and that it worked! It seems, according to Wikipedia, that this practice was connected to the practice of “souling” or “wassailing” that was practiced by the poor on holidays including on the eve of All Saints Day (Hallows Eve, which became Halloween). From the article, it seems that this practice picked up in the US during the 1940s.

One thing I remember from growing up is that we would have a Halloween parade at our school on Halloween and would always parade past my house, which was on the same street as my elementary school (Washington). There would usually be a party afterwards hosted by the PTA, with lots of Halloween candy.

But first there was the matter of making your costume. Most of us growing up in Youngstown didn’t buy costumes. That was a luxury our families couldn’t afford. Instead we dressed up as bums, or gypsies, or pirates, or ghosts, or fairy princesses (at least the girls did!). We salvaged old clothes from around the house, used makeup and facepaint, an old pillow if we wanted to make a fat stomach, and the pillow case to collect all that candy.

Then, as soon as it was dark, we’d don our costumes, meet up with some friends, and begin our assault on the neighborhood! Except when we were very small, we just did this with our friends–it seemed pretty safe back then and most people were more concerned with what kids would do (usually the worst was smashing a pumpkin) than what nefarious adults or others would do to us.

Usually we would run as fast as we could from one house to the next. The point was efficiency, filling that bag with enough candy to last until Christmas even though you ate most of it in the next week! You’d make as much noise as you could stamping up onto the front porch and yell “trick or treat”! The doors would open and people would give you candy, sometimes lots of it!

We never did this, but there were the motorized kids whose parents drove them from one neighborhood to the next. There was this thing of comparing the haul you got with other kids at school the next day. Those kids were always the winners. We’d usually just do a couple blocks, and then it was off to eat all that candy and make yourself sick!

These days, Halloween is the second most commercially successful holiday after Christmas. Vacant stores are rented to sell all kinds of costumes and decorations. Some decorate more for Halloween than for Christmas, it seems! I’m sorry, but most of us and our parents would just not have understood all this and seen it mostly as a colossal waste, at least back then.

It also seems we are more polarized over Halloween than we once were.  Growing up this was kind of a fun and magical night, and of a neighborhood occasion. Costumes were an exercise in creativity and imagination. Decorations were a carved pumpkin with a candle in it, and maybe swapping out an orange porch light for the regular one. Now it seems that on the one hand you have the gruesome and macabre, and on the other, those who react to what they see as a celebration of evil and want nothing to do with it or host “alternative” parties. And it seems more dangerous as well with police departments offering to X-ray your candy and parents needing to hover over the kids. It used to be that the only thing you “worried” about were the people who would give you fruit or a role of pennies instead of candy! I suspect kids still have fun trick-or-treating, but, like many things, Halloween is a very different night from what it was growing up in working class Youngstown.

What are your memories of Halloween and trick-or-treating?

[You can read any (or all!) of my Youngstown posts by clicking “On Youngstown” on the menu bar.]

One thought on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Halloween

  1. Pingback: Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Review Part Two « Bob on Books

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