Festival in the Suburbs

So now that Halloween is over, and a good time was had by my family, I can muse aloud (or ablog) about the slow creep of Halloween from a good time for kids, to a mandatory RAGING PARTY for the adults, and how that plays out in Homeowner Associations, and other community organizations.

This is the first time in my life I’ve ever lived within the influence of an HOA, and I have to say, it’s quite a learning experience. We picked where we are living at least in part because we perceived our future (and present) HOA to be a relatively casual one, lenient about yard art, not concerned about what you put in your back yard (like, laundry to dry), etc. I was not expecting a rescheduling of a major holiday.

But Halloween was “scheduled” for the Saturday before Oct 31st this year. Just in my neighborhood. Two streets over? Oct 31st. The swanky neighborhood known for sending evil letters about dandelions in neighbors yards? Oct 31st. My neighborhood? There they are, scheduling festival. And so all of my Anthro Buttons were pushed.

It’s one thing (I said to the HOA) to have extra! fun! things for Halloween. It’s another to get all fascist about it (um, I may feel strongly about this) and dictate (ha) when your neighbors can go trick-or-treating. Be laissez-faire (I encouraged)! This is not your job (I coaxed)!

Of course, I was speaking about future years, because this year was a done deal. And next year, Halloween falls on Friday. But the next time Halloween is not on a weekend, things are sure to be in dispute again.

The argument for Halloween on the Weekend appears to be three-pronged: 1) it’s too hard to deal with sugared-up kids on a weekday, when they have to go to school the next morning, 2) the adults don’t get to tie one on on Halloween night if they have to go to work the next day, and 3) local churches have activities on Halloween night (Oct 31st).

The perception appears to be that the neighborhood should make a blanket policy, and schedule the holiday so that it is more convenient (for some). But (straightening my now-askew anthropology hat) festival is time-out-of-time. Festivals are organic (high-frutcose corn syrup in the candy notwithstanding) expressions of community, they are collective and grass-roots. Top-down meddling with festival creates (as it has in my neighborhood) factions (Weekend Halloween vs. Leave it Alone and Make Your Own Choices, Already).

So what should an anthropologist counsel these neighbors? This anthropologist counseled non-intervention. In a letter I sent to my HOA board, I said:

“The HOA should, above all, do no harm. Leaving Halloween alone, but providing ways that we as a community can do extra celebrations (as neighborhoods all over our city, and indeed the U.S. do) on those years when Halloween is not a weekend-day, seems to be the way to go. It doesn’t take anything away from anyone. It provides for our neighborhood to remain connected to surrounding communities (who are also celebrating Halloween), while also allowing for extra fun, for those who want it. Having Halloween block parties, parades, or cookouts on the weekend days would never be precluded. But moving trick or treating around does leave people out. It did last year, and it did this year.

That’s just not very neighborly.”

2 thoughts on “Festival in the Suburbs

  1. Donna

    and another thing…
    I think that my Weekend Halloween neighbors are getting the short end of the stick from the American Culture of Work, and are using the Culture of Convenience to punish the rest of us slackers who can still take time off for the festival parts of the calendar. I get the anxiety about not having the time to “do Halloween” because you have to rush home from work, get the costumes, ready the candy, and then be faced with late bedtimes and sugar highs.
    It just seems to me that the solution here should not be to change Halloween. It should be to push back against the 24/7 work ethic (and I think this holds true in many spheres, not just Halloween). The fact that Halloween is (now) a secular, relatively informal festival with no national holiday accompanying it makes it vulnerable to those who think if they’d just move it, then they could celebrate it. To which I say, Celebrate it anyway, dammit! Lots of other people manage. Maybe it doesn’t have to be a blowout (for that particular pressure, we can blame the creep of the Holiday Season–Thanksgiving and Christmas already give people stress, why not Halloween, too??). Maybe our kids can just put on their silly outfits and beg candy from our street, not marathon through the whole subdivision. Maybe maybe maybe.

    We need more secular festivals, not less. More opportunities to experience community where we live, not more ways to move all of our free time into the weekends, and then schedule it frantically so that we are never actually free.

  2. Cindy

    Ha, ha, ha! Once I heard that a ritual related controversy was brewing over in Charlotte I put good money on the fact that it would inspire some blogging.

    I find it fascinating that the “unit of governance” that instituted this scheduling change was the HOA, not, for example, the municipal government. It is basically saying to your neighbors, “Do not ring MY doorbell on Wednesday night!” After all, as you point out, it is a simple enough thing to drive a couple of blocks over and ring those doorbells.

    Maybe Halloween will become one of those rotating holidays, like Thanksgiving – you know, celebrated the last Saturday of October.

    After all, as Sir Edward Burnett Tylor wrote back in 1871 regarding these types of cultural “survivals,” “Here, as elsewhere, causeless spontaneity is seen to recede farther and farther into shelter within the dark precincts of ignorance; like chance, that still holds its place among the vulgar as a real cause of events otherwise unaccountable, while to educated men [sic] it has long consciously meant nothing but this ignorance itself. It is only when men [sic] fail to see the line of connexion [sic] in events that they are prone to fall upon the notions of arbitrary impulses, causeless freaks, chance and nonsense, and indefinite unaccountability.”

    In other words, culture history tells us that there are damn good reasons to get dressed up on October 31, duh.

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