Here Comes Halloween,
A Most Un-Polish Holiday


The Lone Ranger and his faithful compantion, Tonto.

The Lone Ranger and his faithful compantion, Tonto.

When I was around 7 years old, I kept asking my mother to buy me a “Lone Ranger suit.” I was enthralled by television’s masked cowboy and his loyal Indian companion and I wanted to look just like him inside those tight-fitting pants, living the life of a righteous crusader for all that is good in America. I never did get my Lone Ranger suit, but I made up for it a few years ago when I wore a cowboy outfit to a costume party.

By the time I was ten years old and allowed to wear a costume on Halloween and go begging from farmhouse to farmhouse in our neighborhood in Michigan, I decided that I wanted to dress up as a witch, wearing a baggy old black dress of my grandmother’s. I can remember one pair of neighbors exchanging knowing glances as the husband asked, “And what are you supposed to be?” “A witch,” I remember saying shyly, knowing that I had probably made a bad choice. My Polish grandmother had no idea why people celebrated Holloween, and my mother looked at me like I was from another planet. “What’s the MATTER with you?” she said. I have been trying to make up for the witch idea ever since by choosing costumes that symbolize all that I am not: macho, fierce, and rugged.

That's me, with Linda Morrow and Eileen Sullivan at Latin America theme party in the 1980s.

That’s me, with Linda Morrow and Eileen Sullivan at Latin America theme party in the 1980s.

In the 1980s I got dressed up for a Latin American themed going-away soiree we threw for a colleague at the Detroit Public Library who was joining the Peace Corps and going to Central America. I chose the look of a guerilla fighter, sort of my version of Che Guevara. Years ago, there was a fad to throw a “come as you are” party and ask guests to wear whatever they were wearing when they received the invitation. This was particularly amusing if you invited people by phone when you expected them to be sleeping or in the shower. I prefer a “come as you aren’t” party, where you dress up as the opposite of yourself.

As time passes, Halloween seems to me more and more an absurd holiday useful only as an opportunity to see some adorable neighborhood children knocking on my door and begging for candy. Mardi Gras or Carnivale seem like more logical occasions to dress up.

Halloween has become such a popular tradition in America that it is starting to spread around the world, and China is no doubt doing well in the peddling of prefab costumes and other junk. In Poland, however, Halloween is still viewed with bewilderment, much the way my grandmother saw it. The Polish aversion to Halloween is no doubt the result of the Catholic focus on All Saints Day, November 1, rather than the Eve of All Saints. The practice of dressing up as ghosts and monsters has always been considered a dangerous pagan ritual. All Saints Day is a melancholy day of remembrance and respect for the dead that does not correspond well with the ghoulish celebration of fear that Holloween represents. Boo.

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