Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Kingston Halloween

At the Old Dutch Church, Jack-O-Lanterns adorn the graveyard.

I never thought of Halloween as an elegant holiday. Rather, it was a time for little kids to dress up in costumes and go door-to-door asking for candy bars, threatening serious mischief if thwarted in their extortion effort. I grew up in Fairhope, Alabama, in a time when the costumes were homemade and sometimes very inventive and amusing. A husband of mine grew up in a rural town in the Midwest where Halloween was an excuse to turn over outhouses all over the neighborhood.

Then I moved to the Northeast, where real ghosts abide in some measure, and the Hudson Valley, home of the original headless horseman. In historic Kingston, you can feel the presence of spirits just walking through the streets of stone houses and plaques telling of bygone days and heroic deeds. Not all the spirits are evil, but the good ones do not necessarily prevail.

When I lived in Hoboken, an old b-n-r ("born-n-raised" to the uninitiated, a Hoboken phrase for a local) took me to her church on All Hallows Eve. It was a lovely Catholic church, with a charming priest, and his homily was on the meaning of All Hallows Eve. He said that the holiday was a day to pray for the souls in purgatory. Being raised a Protestant, the concept was unknown to me, so his explanation of purgatory itself was a revelation. In all honesty, my friend said she never heard any of that either.

The information made Halloween somewhat more interesting to me, and in Kingston I am seeing an entirely different mode. Fall colors, crisp air, and a decided anticipation of the coming holiday mixes cheer with a certain foreboding. Fall will soon end, and with it, after a feast of turkey, we prepare for the death of one season and the ultimate change from brilliant color to shades of gray and white.

The lawn of a neighborhood house, as those of many others, celebrates the coming death of one season with a smattering of skeletons and gravestones.
It is only one of many such displays in town. Disconcerting at first, but artistically executed and charming in its horror-film kind of way.

I for one tire of the incessant promotion of Halloween on television, from Food Network's wall-to-wall "holiday food" shows with recipes for ghoulish and gruesome presentation, aimed, I suppose, at scaring children or encouraging adults to behave childishly. But I remember my own life as a trick-or-treater, in the distant past when this was as much an adolescent dress-up festival as a celebration of consumption. The movie channels are intent of dredging up all the best and worst horror films of all time, filling air time with incessant and disgusting images of nonsense.
A pumpkin carving at the Old Dutch Church produced a plethora of artistic vegetable sculptures

Yet in Kingston, I wait to see what happens on the night. An air of ghostly intensity pervades the quietude. Parties are slated, friends are preparing their costumes. Even the historic church puts on a festive air and proclaims the coming of a change--the dying of one season to be replaced in a moment by another. Did I say elegant? At least it's benign, and sometimes amusing. A nod to the spirit world from those of us who occupy the humdrum reality of quotidian life.


  1. Good one, ML. Not a big Halloween fan, but they do it well here in Califon: trick or treating, a costume parade, and cider and donuts at the firehouse. We did not go trick or treating. Halloween was more what mischief night is now. We dressed up in costumes and went "begging" on Thanksgiving. I have not encountered many people who shared this custom, but it was practiced in Jersey City when I was growing up.

  2. I learned of the trick-or-treat Thanksgiving custom in Hoboken, Jerry, so it must be a New Jersey thing. I don't think it was called "Trick or Treat," and it seems there were many tricks played at that time in Hoboken--egging mostly--and probably it grew as a way to supplement what might have been meager offerings for Thanksgiving.

  3. It's very nice...when I was a kid Halloween was my favorite was sort of a holiday where you were rewarded for how much effort you put into it...
    If you hustled, you did well.

    In the South I have not seen a trick or treater in 15 years.