There are many wonderful things about the dark half of the year – putting children to bed at 5pm, chunky knitwear to disguise your chunky form, pre-festive season crash diets in the form of the norovirus – but one thing that isn’t especially welcome is the official start of goth season. Halloween was known as Samhain to our pagan forebears, presumably because their kids used to come home from school and announce that ‘Samhain needs to help me make a costume for school’.
There is an eldritch dread in any house that a child comes home and insists that they can’t just buy an ill-fitting costume from Smyths, they have to make one, as there will be prizes for the best creation. So not only do you have to take time out of your busy schedule to try and remember Mary Fitzgerald’s Make & Do bit on Anything Goes!, you now have to craft a costume worthy of a Broadway show. Halloween used to be about human sacrifice, so maybe sacrificing our old clothes to some flour and fake blood will appease the tiny gods that rule our homes.
First you have to come up with a costume. You will find that almost every character you suggest will be met with confused looks, because what was scary to you as a child – clowns, priests, triffids – are relics of a bygone age. The costume ideas my kids have are all pop culture icons, which are scary in that they are culturally vacuous, but really have no genuine fear factor. If it isn’t a video game character, or star of a Netflix/YouTube show, my kids are not interested. After finding the family bowler hat and an old suit from when I cared about my appearance, I spent ten minutes telling my son who Charlie Chaplin was and pitching this as the costume to end all costumes. My wife pointed out that nobody in fourth class would know who Chaplin was, and besides, there was nothing scary about him. As he had four wives and 11 kids, to me his life seems truly terrifying.
In the end we reached that point where you realise that whatever you do, your child is going to be disappointed in you, so you scale back your ambitions. We went back over the note sent home from school and realised that terrible parents like ourselves were given a handy get-out clause, in that it was a costume or jersey day. So we dug out an old GAA jersey from 2004 and stuck that on him, topped off with some ghoulish makeup, and told him he was a zombie hurler, or the ghost of someone killed in a sideline brawl, or something, anything.
He didn’t win a prize; that went to one of those kids whose parents clearly have too much time on their hands, bringing back my own memories of losing out in a local harvest fair’s fancy dress competition in the early Eighties. My sister, her friend and I went as the members of Sheeba, Ireland’s entry in the 1981 Eurovision. If you do remember them, you are probably thinking – weren’t they all female? Yes they were, but as we lived in the country there weren’t too many kids of the right age, size and gender to willingly be crammed into a fertilizer bag decorated with gold stars and tinsel and forced to sing in front of the county mayor and someone from the ICA. The memory is seared into my mind, not just because their hit song Horoscopes was catchy, but because of the injustice. We clearly organised the whole thing ourselves – from the bumbling embarrassed choreography, to the fumbled lines, to the upcycled fertilizer bag dresses. But we were beaten by siblings who came dressed as the presenters of Today Tonight, who made satirical quips they clearly didn’t understand, and played to the crowd with some nonsense about milk quotas. More than three decades later I am still disgusted, because I sang a Eurovision song in a glammed up plastic bag and full face of terrible make-up, while some helicopter parent swooped in and stole my prize. So perhaps the true spirit of Halloween is to teach my child that failing on your own terms is better than cheating your way to a five pound voucher for home heating supplies in the local co-op.