BY PAUL CROCE
After two years of COVID-clouded Mini-Halloweens, we were back to Mega-Halloween on Minnesota Avenue in DeLand, and not just with big numbers of kids of all ages in a wild array of outfits.
Neighbors who had bowed out in recent years were in full party mode with mega-decorations, free food, abundant treats, and even the return of a karaoke stage.
As the Neighborhood Nerdy Professor, I met the costumes containing trick-or-treaters on “our” front lawn (I now share the property with new owners) and invited my students to join in the fun with a purpose.
My classes are devoted to understanding American history and culture. On inviting my students to join us — if you dare! — at sundown on Oct. 31, I said to the college-age big kids, “Let’s talk to the kids, since they have culture, too. How do they develop their ideas?”
On the lawn, we made note of the outfits and any funny stuff they said. What’s the most popular outfit of the year? What’s it gonna be? Got guesses?
It was fun to talk with the little kids and to take some deep dives into current popular culture. I learned a lot from the college students, especially Adrian Cerrud, Ari Giuliante and Sowren Wildingcrayne.
On the border between childhood and adulthood, they educated me about popular characters from movies and video games. In the spirit of Oberlin College professor David Orr, who highlights the special opportunities in young adulthood for planning vocations, college students are young enough to jump into the fantasy stories but old enough to understand Halloween’s dark and playful spoofing in relation to actually serious problems.
Looking through the eyes of my students, Halloween this year was serious fun.
The parents in one family said they like coming to Minnesota Avenue because it’s the safest neighborhood, to which the kids shouted, “and the best candy.” I veered from that tradition by supplying some dentist-approved temporary tattoos and pencils saying “MegaHalloween DeLand USA,” along with Fair Trade candies.
For many of the grown-ups, Halloween was party time. While their children were all business — “excited to get candy,” as one of them put it — many of the parents were “here for the boo’s,” as the shirt on one father read, while a woman proudly displayed “Booz-o-ween 2022.” One man summed up the generational divide: “It’s a lot more fun at 10 years old than at 48 — unless you have a cocktail!”
Another student, Devin Hernandez, turned the evening into an anthropology field experience with the mentorship of anthropology professor Ana Servigna. Rather than study humanity living in a different era or in some far-flung place, we studied the people around us, right here and now, including with thoughtful self-reflections. During years of trick-or-treating, “as a child, I had never asked,” he observed about himself “about … unspoken assumptions.” Then he witnessed them during Halloween rituals: For example, kids knew to “form single-file lines without being told.”
Similarly, college learning is a chance to raise questions about our still-bigger unspoken assumptions. Learning to make the strange familiar and the familiar strange offers opportunities to think about those assumptions. Then, with an examined life, you can construct your own mental GPS or put those assumptions back in mind. While making those choices, college gives a chance to understand your own thoughts in relation to how others think.
At our Halloween rituals, children of all ages got a lot of playful lessons from the stylized terrors of bloodied zombies and grim reapers. Grim? Yes, and as with a lot of the troubles all around us, we can’t individually solve these massive problems: addiction, crime, environmental destruction, warfare, and more wickedly difficult problems and moral burdens. Halloween reminds us that in joint efforts, as with the masses of people that night, we can make mega impacts.
For all the tricks of recent life, what treats can we pull from the treasuries of imagination displayed on Halloween night?
Mega thanks to Michael Bernier, Caitlyn Bishop, Mary Brandt, Adrian Cerrud, Shiloh Conway, Ari Giuliante, Devin Hernandez, Katie Kraft, Jake Mcgillivray, Sam Mudge and Sowren Wildingcrayne, who assisted with interviewing trick-or-treaters and organizing the project.
— Croce is professor of history and director of American studies at Stetson University, and a prolific author.
The Top 10
What was the most popular costume this year? Pirate, followed closely by the rest of the Top 10:
17 Jack Skellingtons
13 Police Officers
Is there renewed hope for the world with Angels outnumbering Devils 10.5 to 6.5? (One character was Half Angel, Half Devil.)
Also, the Top Five Prizes for Creativity:
• The Prize for Social Commentary goes to Lazy American Worker
• The Cheerful Award goes to the Happy Scientist
• The Anachronism Award goes to Astronaut Sailor
• The Prize for Seizing Self Worth goes to the person saying “I’m not just a mom; I’m a cool mom”
• The Prize for Existential Chin Puller goes to the person reporting, “I’m my child’s shadow”