October 31, 2009 in Features

Halloween not everyone’s kind of fun

Retailer capitalizes on anti-sentiments
Caryn Brooks Associated Press
Associated Press photo

A Zazzle model wears a “Boo Humbug” sweatshirt which is part of the retailer’s anti-Halloween line.
(Full-size photo)

Carlee Smith is hardly in the no-fun category.

She hosts a monthly girls’ night out at a bar in Portland, Ore., and co-runs a plus-size vintage boutique called Fat Fancy.

But there’s one thing that brings out the hate in her.

Smith, 33, is among a contrarian contingent that takes a boo-humbug approach to Halloween.

“As a kid I remember always sort of dreading finding a costume,” she said. “I’m not knocking it for other people, but I’m just not into the spectacle and pressure of it.

“I don’t like tacky costumes. I like when people dress up for no reason.”

Halloween haters aren’t as easy to categorize as that odd old lady on the block who always pretends that she’s not home on Oct. 31, or people who protest the day on religious grounds. The new Halloween Hater is young, loud and proud.

Online T-shirt retailer Zazzle.com has a whole line of anti-Halloween offerings that speak for the movement. Slogans include the saucy “I don’t do costumes. But I might do you,” and the simple and effective “I hate Halloween,” among more than 340 options.

Some Halloween haters say they’ve felt that way since childhood.

“I distinctly remember putting on one of my dance recital costumes, grabbing my pumpkin bucket, walking up to the door and bursting into tears,” said Alejandra Owens, 27, of Washington, D.C.

“I felt like the moment I walked out the door everyone would be pointing at me and laughing – and not in a good way,” said Owens, who has hated Halloween since she was 5.

Does she consider herself a curmudgeon?

“Maybe in college a little, but now all my good friends know how I feel about Halloween so it’s more like a running joke,” she said.

“One thing I do like about Halloween: Now that I live in D.C., people are incredibly creative and smart about their costumes. It’s not just gorilla suits and sexy nurses. People in this town really get into their politically themed costumes.”

If Halloween hating is born of childhood bad experiences, does that make it more of a phobia than a matter of taste?

The scientific name for extreme fear of Halloween is “samhainophobia,” named for the ancient Pagan festival of the dead Samhain.

Jerilyn Ross, president of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, said she hasn’t come across an actual Halloween phobic in her career. But she’s counseled people who have phobias about things connected to Halloween, such as masks and dolls.

It’s important, she said, for parents who have anxiety about Halloween to avoid projecting their fears onto their children.

“It would be wrong for a parent who is cynical about Halloween to make the child feel bad about it,” Ross said.

Dori Fern is a reformed Halloween hater who took back the holiday for the sake of her children.

Fern grew up in New York City in the 1970s when, she said, there was a heightened fear of crimes against children.

“Mom was always anxious,” she said.

Every year, Fern would put on whatever dance recital costume she had and was only allowed to visit a few homes that were closely monitored. The whole event felt oppressive and deflating, so she checked out of it.

When she was 14, she gave it one last try. She had just started at the High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan (the “Fame” school) so she thought that was the year Halloween would turn around for her.

She spent a lot of time creating a Dolly Parton costume, but when she wore it to school, her first teacher of the day (a strict drama instructor) made her take it off before anyone got to see it. The costume was inappropriate for a class where students were performing, she was told.

Fern was officially over Halloween at that point.

“I could not love Halloween until I had my own children so they could enjoy the spirit of the day,” she said. “I want them to feel all the possibilities that were so missing from my childhood.”

But for resolute Halloween haters Smith and Owens, there’s only one haunted house they’ll be visiting today: their own. Both say they stay home.

Said Owens: “I will go out of my way to run all my errands, grab a bottle of wine and order dinner in so I can avoid going out for anything on a Halloween night.”

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