Friday, October 30, 2009

All Soul's Eve / All Saints' Day: A Memoir

For any kid between the age of about 6 and maybe 14, Halloween is just about the best day of the year that doesn't involve getting or giving presents. Who doesn't like to get dressed up in outlandish get-up, to disguise oneself, and then to invest the nighttime with at least the whiff of mischief? Well into my 20s, I ran with a group of folks who dressed up, and visited each others' and others' houses on explicit missions to "Drink or Trick." I always liked Halloween.

Someone on a blog today was complaining that the "Churches" were trying to appropriate Halloween, on the theory one supposes that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. The jist of the complaint was that they were trying to take the "fun" out. This struck me as a new approach. Official criticism of the holiday was muted in my youth. Then the Church had an ambivalent relation with All Hallows' Eve.

Now, my father was profoundly--and to his dying breath, afaik--agnostic in all things 'religious.' He had promised, as a condition of his being 'allowed' by the Church to marry my mother--whom he adored, and for whom he would have promised anything-- that he would see that the children of the union would receive a "Catholic" education. He was faithful to that pledge; I attended Catholic school grades 1-9, and finished high school in a Catholic boys' academy. My sister, two years junior, was similarly schooled.

As a 2nd or 3rd grader in around 1954, we attended a Catholic parish school--St. Mark's, on the far west side of Cleveland, OH. At that school, on Nov. 1--which is "All Saints' Day" (a kind of portmanteau Church holy day of obligation)--all the kids were encouraged to attend in costumes which represented their favorite Saints of the Church. (Also, in a way that I later learned smacked of sub-Arctic, aboriginal potlaches, we were instructed to bring candy TO school, to exchange with our fellows. But i digress...) In our household, where my mother, being a strict Catholic, set great store by following the dictates of the Church, far more effort was spent on imagining and constructing All Saints' costumes than was ever expended on Halloween rigs. One year, they made me a "coat of armor by wrapping laundry shirt-stiffeners in foil, and joining them with twine. I couldn't move fast, but I could move in it...

Our Pop had a mordant and wry sense of humor. Plus, I think in retrospect he may have reached a certain "point." Whatever the provocation, this certain year the costume he devised for me was a "platter" crafted from the side of a stiff, cardboard box, and wrapped with aluminum foil, rigged it with a hole in the center, where my head went. Red paint puddled and dried looked gory. My face was also made up with mascara to simulate a beard, and with lipstick to represent blood (funny how that works out, nest paw?).

In that costume, I went to school as "the Martyrdom of St. John, the baptist..."

The kids voted it best costume...But the nuns at St. Mark's were not amused--they seldom were with my deportment, or anything else pertaining to the youthful Y'rOb'd'tS'v't--and they thereafter suspended the All Saints' Day dress-ups.

1 comment:

  1. they're not taking the fun out of it..they just took it over completely..and us pagans are pissed about it..but then you should see me on st. patricks day..i get on a soap box about that bastard that single handed almost did away with all pagans..bastids..him and that fucking leprachauan...