My first Halloween as a teacher put me in a costume and identity I didn’t really expect. But much about that year I didn’t expect. It started with a group of young teachers from the private episcopal school deciding to go to an event called in those days a “Renaissance Faire.” The ‘e’ on the end of Fair denoted that the event was supposed to be reminiscent of the olden days, or of someone’s ideas about the olden days.
For me it meant hanging out with my colleagues and friends and especially the lovely Gwen. Her name was even close to a Renaissance name, Gwendolyn. She loved these kinds of events and wanted me to really enjoy my time at the Faire. I was kind of surprised when she asked, ’I wonder what size tights you wear?’
“Tights?” I responded. “Why would I need tights?”
“Everyone goes to a Renaissance Faire in costume,” she explained,” and you have to be in costume as well.”
This seemed like a shaky situation to me. I quickly ran through all the scenarios in my experience that required me to wear tights. It was easy because the number was zero. I started to step backwards in a kind of hemming and hawing dance of escape.
Gwen picked up on my hesitancy immediately and further explained the importance of being in costume. “Look,” she said. “This is an episcopal school which only exists because of Henry VIII and his fight with the Pope and his quest to produce a son to keep peace in England back in the 1500’s. You’re new here but sometimes we also dress in costume for events and wearing tights is just sort of our cultural history. I mean, it’s actually very manly with a codpiece and all.”
“Codpiece?” I stammered.
“OK,” she said. “You don’t have to wear the codpiece. I was just teasing. Although I might want to help you into and out of your tights as an extra curricular historical exercise.” She smiled demurely. I stared ahead not making eye contact.
“Just put on some gym shorts over your tights,” she finally offered. “It’s what everybody does. Your tunic hangs down and covers the shorts anyway. Put on a belt and a fancy Renaissance Hat with a feather and you’re in.”
“What about shoes?” I asked meekly.
“Oh, I have some stage shoes that are actually covers you slip over your tennis shoes to look like pointy Robin Hood shoes.”
After a few seconds while I tried to digest this shoe information, Gwen smiled and said, “Hey, that’s it.”
“What’s it?” I asked.
“Robin Hood,” she exclaimed. “You can be a manly Robin Hood with green tights a ragged tunic, a hat with a feather and pointy green shoes!”
This sounded like a pretty good compromise to me. I could go with my friends to the Renaissance Faire proudly wearing a manly costume and also be ready for any school events that might include Merry Olde England. We ate grilled sausages, fresh bread, listened to Renaissance bands play old instruments like the lute while they sang bawdy songs and enjoyed watching Renaissance games. There were booths of local crafts and the first faire I attended even had jousting.
I wondered what use I would have for my Robin Hood costume at school. But the question was answered, oddly, at Halloween. One thinks of witches, ghosts, goblins and scary costumes with blood stains and evil sounding voices at the mention of Halloween. These are somehow all connected to All Saints Day, or Dias de los Muertos in the Spanish or Mexican tradition. But even though we were deep in Southern California, there would be no Spanish or Mexican influence in our Halloween. This was an Anglican Halloween.
The minister gave a brief explanation of Halloween in chapel as All Saints Day and invited all the kids to really enjoy the day as the principal had arranged for lots of fun events. And our costumes would be on the theme of “Olde England.”
On Halloween Day, all the kids came dressed as princesses, Robin Hoods, dragons or kings. The older junior high kids couldn’t miss out on the scary stuff so they appeared as witches, executioners or plague victims. Classes were held on a shortened schedule and we teachers were expected to create curriculum that related to the fun of the dress-up day. Naturally, I came as Robin Hood and had kids make plays in groups and then deliver them to the whole class.
When the fun time actually started, the parents had organized a real play day. Kids bobbed for apples, got caramel apples, danced through a cake walk featuring fancy home-made cakes or even fancier ones from the upscale bakery nearby. White cake with real strawberries on top dribbled with dark chocolate was one I remember well, in addition to other rich and delicious offerings. Three-legged races and backward races were held and finally a parade where many awards were distributed for creative costumes. Hot dog and hamburger dinner rounded out the afternoon of Halloween Carnival and school moved towards Thanksgiving without looking back. My Robin Hood costume might work for Thanksgiving as well with a few minor adjustments. All in all, Halloween was a great success.