Eight years ago, I wrote about my first Halloween. Here is that "zombie blog post," back from the "mostly-dead" Idol Chatter blog-that-has-ceased-to-be, freshly revived (I mean, "heavily revised" - with new references to INTERNET! BUFFY! and GOLEMS! ) and ready to eat your brain. Enjoy my Halloween grinchiness!
A Yeshiva Girl's First Halloween
by Esther D. Kustanowitz (revised 2014)
“What did you wear the last time you trick-or-treated?” my college friends asked.
“Umm, I’ve never been trick-or-treating.”
Their silence made me realize I had managed to terrify my friends on Halloween–quite a good first effort at the holiday.
Growing up in suburban New Jersey, I always knew what Halloween was: the week when television switched to a “Fright Night/Shocktober” format, candy unveiled its fall color palate, and packages of food suddenly sported ghosts, witches, skeletons and corpses (very appetizing). And it was also always the week when my yeshiva (Jewish religious school) sent home a letter to parents informing them that Halloween was a pagan holiday that had become a fulcrum for mischief and destructive pranks–sometimes of an anti-Semitic nature. We had Purim as our designated dressup day. It was highly advised that we not be permitted to participate in any Halloween celebrations.
Halloween's real impact was the constant ringing of our doorbell, as trick-or-treaters made their way down the block. My brothers and I would open the door and distribute candy to costumed kids, occasionally pocketing a piece of candy for ourselves, and never whining to my parents to let us participate. It wasn’t our faith. It wasn’t our holiday.
When I got to college, I realized that I had missed something vital in the secular calendar cycle. As October waned, people started talking about Halloween–instead of door-to-door candy collecting, there were fraternity keg parties and prizes for best costume. Costume strategies for men involved creativity and for women often included cleavage. My friend Mike dressed as a Mother Superior (he came out a few years later). Gary went as "Lampshade Man,” sticking a lampshade on his head, going up to women and saying “Turn me on!” Debbie dressed as a phone–she drew a telephone keypad (remember those?) on a white t-shirt, attached a phone receiver (remember those?) to a headband, and went to a party saying, “Ring, ring, I’m for you! Pick me up!”
My friends vowed to take me trick-or-treating, and for an authentic experience, they made me dress up. I raided my conservative closet and selected a longsleeved black shirt, a pretty modest, nearly-above-the-knee skirt, tights, and boots. (New Jersey in October, you know.) I didn’t look that different from shul-going Upper West Siders, but we added a bright lipstick, and my friends proclaimed the costume “a prostitute.” (Huzzah, college empowerment!)
We left campus and went to the suburbs of East Brunswick. House by house, as people - expecting local children - opened their doors, we yelled “trick or treat” and thrust out our bags waiting for them to deposit the candy goodness. But the homeowners were suspicious. “Aren’t you a little old for this?” So we upped our game, offering a trade: our singing services for their candy. “Halloween carols? Really?” one homeowner queried. “Sure!” we agreed. (I obviously had never been caroling either, so this was a double treat.) We were the singing telegrams no one had asked for - starting with some classics, Frank and Broadway show tunes, and moved to some more contemporary stuff. Debbie Gibson songs may have been involved.
That first time was a little weird, and uncomfortable, and not because of our caroling - it felt like I was pretending not to be Jewish. But most of the friends I was out with that night were also Jewish; they were just used to Halloween - celebrating it for them hearkened back to fond childhood memories. All I had was the inherited fear of something that used to be called "Mischief Night" or "Goosey Night," and the instilled guilt over celebrating something that didn't feel like my holiday.
I appreciate the creativity of a good costume - even more so now, with the internet enabling so much creative costume-sharing. But some of the more graphic costumes seem to have lost their fun. I'm a loyal fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for its mythology, humor and empowerment themes - but bereft of that context, bloody monster masks left me unsettled. After endless CNN footage of 9/11, I found the “bloodied accident victim” genre disturbing. And then there are the "sexy ______" costumes, providing an excuse to wear revealing outfits and drink until they can’t tell the difference between friends and friends-with-benefits. Which may suit everyone else fine, but that kind of obfuscation usually isn’t necessarily my cup of poison. Even on the Jewish holiday of Purim, a yeshiva girl’s approved day of dress-up, I’m always paralyzed when it comes to costume creation. My costumes are typically more clever, based on a turn of phrase ("media queen") or something else that needs to be explained ("the cliches of JDate"), rather than "sexy golem" (which come to think of it, isn't a bad idea.) So when it comes to Halloween, I hope my friends have an amazing time, but I generally opt out.
Of course, you never know. Maybe someday I’ll come around. There is definitely something appealing about a day of fun and freedom from the strictures of contemporary dress and behavior. And, oh, the candy. (Which, hot tip, goes on sale at most stores after Halloween for 50-75% off. You're welcome.) But I probably won't be doing much this Halloween. Unless you happen upon a group of trick-or-treaters singing show tunes, in which case I expect you to text me immediately.
Happy Halloween!! (You know, if that's like, your thing. No judgments.)