Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween makes me happy

Creative homemade decorations are displayed at a house in Minneola
Simply Living
October 31, 2011

I often found myself smiling as I drove through town these past few weeks. The reason for these sudden bursts of levity was tonight's holiday, Halloween.

Instead of just treating it as a one-night celebration, as it was when I was a child, an increasing number of people now extend the fun by decorating their front yards weeks in advance with spooky or simply playful displays. From the yards I've passed, I'd say the most popular decorations are giant spiders, spider webs, fake gravestones and dangling displays of ghosts, goblins and witches. Most of these Halloween symbols are store-bought, but I've come upon quite a few homemade exhibits as well.

People who choose to decorate yards usually opt for a few well-placed pieces to depict the mood they want to convey, but not everyone subscribes to the "less is more" concept. Just as some homeowners go over the top at Christmastime, certain people seem to know no limit when it comes to Halloween.

The resident of a two-story wooden house in the west Orange County town of Oakland is a perfect example. Dozens of life-size, scary-looking creatures fill this house's expansive front and side yards, while ghouls of every sort hang from trees and leer at passersby from the house's second-story balcony.

A home in Oakland goes a bit over the top with Halloween decorations

The yard is so cluttered with every conceivable holiday symbol (think jack-o'-lanterns, skulls and crossbones, spiders, gravestones, scythes) that it would be a challenge to count them all.

"Where do you suppose he stores them all when Halloween is over?" my practical husband wondered as we drove by the house. Not my first thought, but I had wondered that, too, especially since I know the same homeowner decorates his yard just as elaborately for Easter, Christmas and Thanksgiving.

The Oakland house is a marvel of holiday mania and attracts plenty of attention, but going all out isn't necessary to make an impression. One of my favorites is a simple Halloween display in a quiet Minneola subdivision.

Three pair of what look like adult-sized human legs protrude from the ground in this postage-stamp-size front yard. The fully dressed appendages are the only things visible. No head, arms or torsos are in sight.

When I first passed this display, my imagination was piqued. My eyes saw legs and feet, but my mind imagined upper bodies buried. Although the feet are immobile, I envisioned them kicking and thrashing about. I bet the person who created it gets a good chuckle whenever drivers like me do a double-take.

That's the thing about Halloween — it's such a playful holiday. Being different is applauded on Halloween, and outrageous behavior is acceptable. It's a holiday of broken rules. On most nights, kids are discouraged from eating sweets and told to keep their distance from strangers, but on Halloween, they're encouraged to knock on the doors of people they don't know and ask for goodies. Adults who might otherwise never talk to one another have a reason to be sociable, generous and friendly. On this one night of the year, neighborliness trumps discord, and fun and frolic win out over reserve.

Tonight on Halloween, I'll be accompanying my 27-month-old grandson and his parents on a short romp through their Winter Garden neighborhood. At his young age, I doubt if Atom can grasp the holiday's significance, but even at the tender age of 2, he's completely on board with the concept of "treats."

"More yummy!" I imagine him saying as he grabs yet another candy bar from a neighbor's hand.

For me, it will be a pleasure to see my grandson dressed up in a silly costume, continuing a practice that has been such a fun part of our family's traditions for years. Everyone can use more reasons to smile, and Halloween is a holiday ready-made for doing just that.

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