Single White Nerd: I Hate Halloween
I hate Halloween. There, I said it. Until earlier today, I wasn’t sure why. I suspected it might be some deep seated psychological block against donning a costume to conceal my identity; a discomfort with anything that might chip away at my super inner core secret self. The truth I stumbled upon today is not nearly so deep or pseudo intellectual. The truth is that I hate Halloween because of UNICEF.
UNICEF is the United Nations Children’s Fund, a global organization that saves kids’ lives in over 150 countries by providing clean water, nutrition, medicines, education and aid in emergencies. Very worthy cause. I mean, how can you not support such a worthy cause? How could anything bad come of such a worthy cause? So worthy. Nevertheless, 60 years ago, someone with a heart full of good intentions came up with the idea that destroyed Halloween for me. It’s called “Trick or Treat for UNICEF.”
Mary Emma Allison. That’s the woman’s name. It must have come upon her in a flash of what she, the wife of a preacher man, might have called divine inspiration. The idea worked on so many levels—it would Make a Difference while transmorgrifying a secular holiday with pagan roots into an opportunity to practice Christian Charity. Every year, hundreds of thousands of adorable moppets dress up in adorable moppet costumes and go door to door asking complete strangers for treats. Any time of year, people might slam the door in the childrens’ faces. But on Halloween, they’re welcomed with buckets of sugary candy. Or, sometimes, little travel sized toothpastes. Either way: no one says no to the moppets. Not on Halloween.
Mary Emma Allison’s idea was genius in its simplicity: if people would willingly give out candy, might they not also spare a few cents for UNICEF? I mean, who would say ‘no’ to a legion of cowboys and princesses? Ninjas and aliens? All the kids needed to do was ask. And the kids wouldn’t mind. Of course not. They’d still get their candy. They’d be blissfully unaware that they’d been conscripted into an army of unstoppable fundraisers the likes of which the world had never seen. Little zombies hungry not for brains, but for charity. Terrifying.
The idea spread like wildfire. It attracted admiration and accolades. Eleanor Roosevelt, JFK, LBJ and others all sang its praises. By the time I was old enough to join the zombie army, it had become as much a part of Halloween as cavities and stomach aches. Each year, my teacher and, I assume (though I may be wrong on this) teachers across the nation, would hand out little cardboard boxes emblazoned with the UNICEF logo. They’d announce a contest: a great reward would come to the Child who collected the most Charity. The Children would hum with excitement: a reward? Oh boy! We get candy and, maybe, a reward! Sweet and double sweet, huzzah and hooray!
That was most children. Not me. I got the box and immediately panicked. Honestly, I’d blocked it out until today. I saw one of those little boxes next to a cash register at the coffee shop and had a full-on freak out. Memories flooded out of my subconscious:
Six years old, dressed as a ninja because all I had to do was wear black and tie a scarf around my face (my costumes always sucked), lingering at the back of a group of kids trudging through the brisk night from house to house. Yelling “TRICK OR TREAT and also pennies for UNICEF please it’s for the children.” I hate it. I hate asking for treats and charity. Asking for anything. I let the others, with their ornate, sometimes hand sewn costumes do the asking. I just stand there, head down, letting people fill my plastic jackolantern with goodies and maybe drop a penny or two into my cardboard box. Murmur a thank you and shamble off to the next house. This would be fun if it weren’t for the little box. The UNICEF. I don’t WANT to ask for charity. I don’t WANT to ask for candy. I don’t WANT to dress up because everyone’s costumes are way better than mine and more creative like Morgan who’s dressed like a bump on a log and is wearing a cardboard box that says log on it, that’s awesome and his parents helped him make it and mine didn’t because my parents don’t love me and–
I tamped down the memories and paid for my latte. I didn’t move, though. Just stared at the demonic charity box with its cheerful logo. “Are you ok, sir?” the barrista asked. “Sure,” I replied. “Would you like to support UNICEF today?” I stared at her. Twenty-something years old and she was still a fundraising zombie. “Sure,” I replied, pulling the corners of my mouth back into a rictus smile.
Hand trembling, I held a few coins over the box. Then. I dropped them.
I’m not sure what I expected. A flash of light. Heavenly voices. A flood of tears as my long repressed trauma released, freeing me to enjoy Halloween with its ghosts and goblins and Palins and naughty nurses. But not so much. The coins merely clinked into the box. “Thanks,” said the barrista. “Sure,” I said again. And that was it.
So I still hate Halloween. But at least now I know it’s because of UNICEF and not because of the costume/identity thing. Certainly not because my costumes always sucked and I associated that, in my childmind, with feeling unloved. No, that would just be dimestore psychobabble. A load of hooey. Clearly, the culprit here is an agency dedicated to advancing the health and well-being of children around the world. Right?
See Michael Kass unleash his neuroses live on October 28 at Taboo Tales @ the Zephyr Theater. Info is here. Happy Halloween! Also–support UNICEF!