My mother glared at the large inflatable spider as if it had personally affronted her. “Tacky,” she commented tersely as she turned her eyes back to the road. She gripped the steering wheel tightly as we drove past a series of ghost-filled trees, scattered cobwebs and carefully arranged skeletal scenes.
According to my mother, Halloween stains autumn’s otherwise beautiful character. My mother celebrates fall by placing a vase of marigolds on the kitchen counter and scattering acorns on top of the mantel. Every October, she brings up the same glass pumpkin from the basement and places it on the dining room table, claiming that squirrels render real pumpkins “impractical.”
I grew to hate Halloween because I did not want to admit that the “tacky” houses could possess something that I did not. I trick-or-treated with my friends in the characteristically miserable Chicago weather. Upon returning home, however, I selected 12 pieces of candy from my damp pillowcase and willingly handed the rest over to my waiting mother as part of our annual candy donation drive. Halloween became a societal obligation; my siblings and I began to view Halloween as something to be tolerated rather than enjoyed.
Social media, however, rendered it difficult to ignore the seemingly enjoyable aspects of Halloween. The so-called “cheap” costumes and unhealthy Halloween habits, as much as I hated to recognize it, seemed fun. As a coping mechanism, I retreated further into my mother’s hatred for Halloween. I embraced her distaste of the holiday to justify my own absence from the gatherings that I saw online. Through my personal boycott of Halloween, I made myself believe that I, too, preferred the more “natural” elements of autumn.
I adopted my mother’s “quirk” as my own. I became the girl who hated Halloween. I enjoyed the shock factor that accompanied my unexpected remarks regarding Halloween’s distasteful qualities. My sister and I poked fun at my mother for being the “Halloween Scrooge.” Our aversion to Halloween grew to be a point of family identity.
As I entered the high school social scene, I began to realize that I wasn’t the only one who saw the holiday as somewhat tacky. Everyone acknowledged Halloween’s commercial, superficial aspects; my peers, however, embraced these characteristics as something worthy of celebration. Yes, they were completely using the holiday as an excuse to dress up and go out. It dawned upon me that Halloween itself is about denial; by the simple act of putting on a costume, we choose to be our tacky, alternate selves. Halloween is the one night a year where it is socially acceptable to portray less authentic realities. Of course Halloween cannot compare to the natural, seemingly divine beauty that accompanies the onset of autumn — that’s the entire point.
This year, my first time away from home, I think my mother also recognized the advantages of embracing tackiness. A week before Halloween, the Silliman Packaging Center notified me that my mother had sent a cardboard box filled with candy corn, gory makeup and the most hideous stuffed witch that I have ever laid eyes on. In order to connect with me, my mother pretended to be Halloween’s biggest fan. Although she sent me cheap Halloween decorations to engage with the college atmosphere, I am almost certain that she bought none for herself. Nevertheless, I felt a certain fondness at my mother’s blatant phoniness. She had accepted that sometimes she had to be what she is not, and, in this way, she is the biggest supporter of Halloween that I know.
Lydia Kaup | firstname.lastname@example.org