The witches were the first to go. Then the ghosts. Then the skeletons. Now even jack-o-lanterns are having their leering faces scrubbed clean to pass as plain old pumpkins. The funkillers have been looking for another holiday to go after now that they've sucked most of the life out of Christmas, and their new target is Halloween. They're sucking the guts out like you clean out a pumpkin to make room for a candle and leaving us all poorer for their efforts.
The name "Halloween" itself has been under attack for a long time, and this year the results were hard to ignore. On the shelves at local craft stores you no longer see spooky signs reading "Happy Halloween" or even "Trick or Treat." Instead you find signs with generic slogans like "Happy Harvest," or even worse, "Autumn Blessings" or "Harvest Blessings," whatever that means. Halloween carnivals are now "Harvest Festivals" or "Fall Frolics" and becoming as bland as the names. They've even got kids trick-or-treating in the malls instead of the neighborhoods where they live. The new mascot of the season seems to be a cheery scarecrow whose head is decidedly not made from a pumpkin and who isn't hiding a human skeleton under his cast-off clothes.
Although they are the obvious suspects, this is not just an assault by Christians on a perceived pagan holiday. The real culprits seem to be soulless corporate funkillers whose marketing plan lacks any vision except a desire not to offend even the smallest group of potential customers. Their goal is to make everything as bland and as vague as possible so no one can ever possibly complain, or have any fun. And while this evisceration of the holiday may make it harmless and free from fun, it did manage to at least offend me.
This is hardly the beginning of this war on the imagination and it won't be the end. This year I'm spotting the trend in craft stores, but it's hardly new. I think it started when mass-produced costumes of cartoon characters began to replace homemade costumes which came from kids' imaginations, and that was 30 years ago. There's nothing more disheartening than answering the door to find a cheerless squad of identical Power Rangers staring at you and demanding candy.
Bit by bit the mystery and wonder is being sucked out of Halloween until it's as soulless and meaningless as a manufactured holiday like Valentine's Day. It used to be scary but wonderful, a glimpse of the unknown which awakened young imaginations. Now the kids count their candy while the merchants of blandness count the dollars.
I don't know how to reverse the trend all by myself, but I'm going to start at home, by making sure that my seven-year-old gets a bit of a scare on Halloween night. It may be will-o-the-wisps in the woods behind our house or goblins in the bushes by the front gate or just creaks and moans in the night — something unexpected and spooky to give the imagination a jolt. If it opens her mind just a little bit, who knows where that might lead down the road.