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Let Your Heart Be Light*

charlie brown

The days are getting noticeably shorter and carbohydrate cravings are growing stronger. By mid-October there’s no denying that there’s a change a coming. The first scattering of little costumed people and dogs have appeared (either going to pre-Halloween celebrations or having trick-or-treating dry runs.) By this weekend the streets will be alive with all manner of elaborate costume. Children will take on the mantle of popular movie, cartoon and video game characters. Young (and not so young) women will dress as slutty; nurses, waitresses, devils and angels. It will all build to the crescendo that is the Village Halloween Parade, an event that celebrates wit, witticism, irony and drag. And then ladies and gentlemen the party really gets started.

Before the last candy corn has been eaten (or tossed) it will be time for “the holidays.” As you pull the fake cobwebs down from your walls you will be implored (by television, radio, podcast, website, magazine, and newspaper) to perfect your turkey. Every year the “experts” come out to tell us the failsafe way to remedy our annual poultry failings. Personally I have never known any Thanksgiving that hinged upon the perfection of the bird. There is way too much family drama (not too mention side dishes) to really focus on grading the turkey. Besides, isn’t gravy’s job to democratize and flavor? But never us mind, the airwaves will blast with brining, frying, boning promises. Tips for new and exciting ways to invent old favorites will appear. As if Thanksgiving is a cocktail party not a holiday celebrating tradition and very specific foods. Let’s face it the only help any of us need, short of an invitation to someone else’s house, is the Butterball hotline. Those little holiday angels make up for every bad customer service phone bank everywhere. We love you Butterball!

While all this media “filler” (or should we call it “stuffing?”) occurs, the rumbling of the real “holidays” train can be heard. The “holidays” as we now seem to call Christmas, begin to be feverishly pitched earlier and earlier, but still subscribes to a certain; Thanksgiving first, etiquette. At 11:58 AM EST Thanksgiving Day, Santa Claus heads into Herald Square signaling that it is now polite to discuss his special day. (By the way, if there is any confusion over the overt euphemism of “the holidays” pay close attention this year. Chanukah will be over on December 5th yet dollars to donuts the talking heads will still be referring to last minute “holiday” shopping and “holiday” gift ideas until December 24th.) There is actually much to be said of this time of year. People’s spirits (outside of shopping malls and large toy stores) are lifted and light. Everything looks prettier as Christmas wreaths and trees pop up in even the most secular of locations. If you’re lucky, invitations and chances to dress up increase and there may even be presents.

For some however, it’s mostly frenzy. Even if you don’t work as a Christmas elf, chances are your workload dramatically increases before “the holidays.” Deadlines and meetings get squished into that après Thanksgiving, pre-getting the hell out of town, period. People (and by people we mean mostly women) who feel it’s their responsibility to create the holiday, don’t necessarily bask in the sights and sounds of the season. There are many people whose activity or responsibilities don’t seasonally increase, but their loneliness or sadness does. Even those not mired in loss or illness, may find this time of year triggering a short-term discrete melancholy. Memories can be haunting as can unfulfilled dreams. Whether we’re leading the holiday charge or feeling the parade is passing us by, it’s important to keep in touch with how we’re feeling. For people who love nothing more than a 4-page to-do list and arms filled with shopping bags, there’s not much internal checking in that needs to occur this time of year. But those little Santa’s helpers are in a great position to check-in on those around them. Everyone knows someone who’s suffered a loss or is naturally fragile. This time of year provides ample opportunity to reach out. Issue invitations or drop by with small gifts or treats. All that matters is that you connect. For those who have a hard time, know your triggers. Step away from the television, especially when It’s A Wonderful Life comes on. Stay away from places that feel overwhelming or lonely. Do less that you don’t enjoy and more that you do. Plan lovely things for yourself. Is there a book you’ve been meaning to read, a place you’d like to visit, a food you’d like to try? Now is the time to plan gifts for yourself. It may seem as if the whole world is trimming a perfect tree, clinking egg nog glasses and singing carols. But the truth of the matter is that very few people actually live in a fantasy world. Most of us struggle in one way or another, and knowing that can be a great comfort.

The best we can do, this time or anytime of year, is to not get ahead of ourselves. Christmas and the New Year are four days of celebration two months away. There are over 60 days worth celebrating until then.

*Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (1943) – Ralph Blane & Hugh Martin

 

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Trick-or-Treat

This is a preemptive strike against the annual Halloweenphobia that is about to rear its ugly (non-masked) head. While the retail chains have been stockpiling orange and black merchandise the populace rumblings have begun to stir. It seems that every year yet a new way to safeguard children from self-directed Halloween fun is unearthed. First, trick-or-treating became chaperoned, then there were the full blown bans on trick-or-treating, with tragically depressing “parties” in their place, then costumes at school were banned (I ask you, how is a person supposed to trick-or-treat on their way home from school?!,) recently there was no trick-or-treating on Sundays (is that a Lent thing?) and my all-time, number 10 on the insanity Richter scale: Halloween pedophile alerts. I’m no criminologist, but I’m just gonna throw this out there: really?! Do people think the “strangers with candy” thing is Halloween on steroids?  ( A) children trick-or-treat with friends, not alone B) pedophiles prey on the vulnerable and the heinous crime involves befriending C) stop watching so much SVU.

What is so ridiculously ironic about the Halloween bogeyman paranoia (on a holiday that celebrates the bogeyman) is that the same adults who are wrapping their sainted cherubs in bubble wrap are dressing like working girls (or like children if they’re men) and drinking in excess. But I digress.

Halloween is a wonderful adventure and learning opportunity for children. Weeks are spent creating costumes and organizing trick-or-treating gangs and routes. Navigational skills are utilized while mapping out the greatest candy-per-footstep ratio. Learning to speak to adults (who, gasp, are strangers) is intimidating but a necessary skill. There’s nothing quite as awkward as that first “Trick-or Treat” of the evening. For all of you now shaking your head with smugness and muttering; “she just doesn’t get it.” I assure you I do. Learning to be confident and assertive with adult (strangers) is the BEST way to safeguard a child from victimization, be it peer-to-peer bullying or the unthinkable.

As far as candy tampering (rare as it is) no candy is eaten until the little goblins arrive home. Loose candy, apples and baked goods must be tossed, if the giver is not a family friend. We live in a world of terrifyingly real foodborne illness, manufacturer’s tainting, and flawed engineering of safety products. We don’t spend our lives in fear of these hazards, or in fear of asteroids for that matter. I don’t think we need to create some Willy Wonka’s evil twin fantasy and destroy a wonderful beneficial holiday designed for children.

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2011 in Childhood, Cultural Critique

 

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