I felt I adapted well to the costume ball approach to Halloween at the private episcopal school, despite the fact that it was awkward at first. However, when I moved to a small, Northern California school a couple of years later, a few surprises were in store.
In this school, kids wrote Halloween stories and made Halloween art projects for the fun of it. School was cut short and the rest of the day became the Halloween Harvest Carnival. This event was set up for the benefit of whole families with older teenagers running booths with typical elementary school activities such as fishing pole hung over a large screen and goodies put on the paperclip hook, or bean bag throw into a plywood and painted clown face with holes for eyes, mouth and nose. Prizes were awarded to the most accurate throwers. There were also three- legged races, gunny sack races, apple bobbing and more simple fun.
In the public school, Halloween for the primary grades, was a wonderful curricular opportunity. One great teacher lead the K-2 kids, 300 of them, in a rhythmic chant that started with and returned to the chorus of Nancy Byrd Turner’s “Black and Gold.”
“Everything is black and gold,
Black and gold, to-night:
Yellow pumpkins, yellow moon
Jet-black cats with golden eyes
Shadows black as ink,
Firelight blinking in the dark
With a yellow blink
Black and gold, black and gold
Nothing in between-
When the world turns black and gold
Then it’s Halloween!”
A Halloween parade followed with laughs and jokes and fun. My Robin Hood costume with me in tights was a novelty but no one seemed to mind. There was a cakewalk for the older kids but it was cut short due to the small number of cakes. No home-made cakes were allowed due to the prevalence of hepatitis so only store bought sheet cakes and garishly decorated layer cakes sat on the prize table. This short game was drawing to a close when things started to turn a bit nasty.
A contingent of religious fundamentalist mothers with their preacher descended on the school. I was standing with my 6th graders who happily regressed to about 4th grade age in order to play with the primary kids and enjoy the parade. One boy stood up on his tip-toes suddenly and craned his neck to look at the approaching group of serious looking women in long dresses, elaborately braided hair and the man who accompanied them.
“Uh oh,” said the kid.
“What’s wrong?” I replied.
“It’s Boss Preacher, Shouting Joe Jones!” the boy said. “We better hide,” he warned a bit scared.
Some of the other kids exclaimed, “Oh no! Boss Preacher!”
“Now just relax,” I said calmly.
The kids scattered to a safe distance as the Preacher and his group closed in on us.
Boss Preacher, Shouting Joe Jones approached the carnival and in a non-amplified voice louder than any I had ever heard, started shouting “Fire and Brimstone! Fire and Brimstone! If you want to play little devils, then you are inviting the devil into your lives! Repent! Repent! Turn your back on the devil, don’t worship him!”
Between each sentence the accompanying women in long, plain dresses and braided hair would shout “Amen!” or “Save them Lord” or “Praise the Lord!”
This demonstration almost became a chant of its own.
Fire and Brimstone!
Save them Lord!
You are playing with the devil!
Praise the Lord
Naturally, I stepped forward and attempted to stop this disruption of the kids’ fun.
“Excuse me,” I said. “You can’t do this here. These kids are just having a good time for Halloween.”
Without skipping a beat, Boss Preacher turned his gaze towards me, looked me up and down moved closer. His troops of braided women followed suit behind him. I stood my ground, like Robin on the bridge with Friar Tuck. But when he came so close I could smell the whiskey on his breath, I took a step back.
“Repent! Repent! You are the devil’s tool in your unholy costume of devil worship!” he shouted.
“I’m no such thing,” I replied with a smile on my face. Raising my voice I shouted back, “Henry the VIII wore tights and so do I, in his honor.”
For some reason, this mention of Henry VIII stopped Boss Preacher. He might have thought it was a Biblical reference such as Luke 8 or Mark 8, except this one from Henry 8 was a chapter he never learned about. He might not have been much of a reader. In any case, he was struck dumb. In an instant he turned around and marched off followed by his group of braided women.
The kids who had been watching from a distance ran up to me.
“How did you make him leave?” Said one.
“He cursed him, put a spell on him with Henry 8’s” said another
“What’s Henry 8’s?” said a few at the same time looking at each other.
I told the kids I would explain back in class and that they should go and play for now. The next Monday, I continued the Halloween tradition with stories of beheadings, bloody battles and heads on pikes. The kids loved this and begged for more. I was pretty happy to be able to help them learn about men wearing tights and religious freedom.