Flirty, naughty, sexy? Just when did Halloween costumes start having to be any of those? The creeping trend has taken hold to such an extent that it’s oozing over costumes made for the under-sixes, something I find way more chilling then Norman Bate’s mother fixation. Check out this year’s groaning rails of pyro-plastic taffeta-infested blancmange creations if you don’t believe me.
Boys get to be wolves, vampires (with all their clothes on), skeletons (again, covered from head to toe) or zombie football players. The girls’ options take a worryingly different tack. Cue ‘zombie’ prom queens, complete with ‘fabulous’ sash, pink rouge and cherry lipstick, ‘pretty’ corpse brides or semi sexed-up witches – or you could opt for a devil-red number with off-the-shoulder sleeves and corseted detailing, available in sizes ranging from aged-three (just what you want to be sticking your little preschooler in so they know the ‘true meaning’ of celebrating All Hallows Eve).
It’s not just about going around in something more flammable than a Trump Twitter spat; it’s got to be either pretty or alluring. Beyond taking part in some kind of crazed human sugar experiment, Halloween for girls is slipping into the kind of dangerous territory of the everyday human realm – where you can perhaps be a bit scary, but you most definitely have to be attractive.
From the top down
Unsurprisingly, the problem comes from the top down, with the adult mass-produced versions being equally horrific. Men get to wear capes, and either slash or save all around them. Women get to wear corsets and be saved. Or we can be a cat, and fulfil all our nubile feline fetishes.
Yes, you may argue, what we dress up as is our own prerogative and for some, it is a welcome chance to indulge their fantasies. But the way it is overspilling into kids’ costumes feels really creepy. Halloween is about embracing the darkness; its origins are spiritual, not sexual.
Ugly for an evening
Halloween also gives everyone a chance to be intentionally ugly for an evening, which actually has some perks. Rather than checking your lipstick in the mirror, you need to make sure your fake carbuncled nose and electrocuted hair are still on; or your Day of the Dead make-up hasn’t slid onto your neck. This should be heaven for kids; carte-blanche to gross everyone out for an evening (and be praised and given sweets for doing it).
As our daughters begin to engage in a frighteningly over-sexualised world, this should be an opportunity to completely thwart the everyday stereotyping and objectification by getting their actual freak on, and experience with it perhaps some of the liberation that comes with it. Ghostbusters? Yes, please. You get to wear a proton pack and a jumpsuit. What’s not to love?
Ways to ‘Samhain’-up your Halloween
Largely believed to be the basis from which Halloween evolved, the pagan festival Samhain literally translates as the “end of summer”; signalling the end of the Celtic year and the start of winter. The Celts believed that everything began in darkness, and then worked its way towards the light, and this was a time of reflection before a new beginning.
Commune with the dead
Most children from a preschool age are fascinated with death, but it doesn’t have to be doom and gloom. Finnish families, for instance, visit graveyards en masse on Christmas Eve to remember their dearly departed, lighting candles and paying respects. We tend to hide that stuff from our kids now, but it was a key Samhain tradition to give offerings of food and gifts to the dead in order to secure a bountiful harvest the following year. You may not want to pull out all those stops, but a trip to the graveyard is a good place to start.
Pick a pumpkin or two
There are almost a dozen pumpkin farms across Ireland now and many of them hold picking festival in the run-up to Halloween, often with activities and hot food on offer.
Read Samhain Stories
Samhain was seen as the beginning of the ‘darker half’ of the year, a liminal time when the boundary between this world and the ‘Otherworld’ thinned. This and other spooky nuggets are found in The Halloween Book of Facts and Fun by Wendie C. Old, available from Amazon.
Make some barmbrack smothered with butter, with lashings of tea, and the kids get to find the hidden treasure too. Donal Skehan’s recipe is easy to follow (and the whiskey is optional).