Trick or Treat

When we look at Halloween through the eyes of children, we see one more opportunity to pretend, to make believe, to dress up as Harry Potter or a ghost or a Ghostbuster or a superhero or a pumpkin.

If you ask kids why they love dressing up, they will respond, “Because it’s fun, duh.”

If you ask psychologists why kids make believe, those online answer along the lines of what Dr. Sandra Waite-Stupiansky wrote: “When children dress up as part of their pretend play, they represent themselves as someone else — a mother, a monster, a dinosaur. It’s an important part of their development of ‘transforming’ one thing into another. In this case, they are transforming themselves into another role.”

According to the online site Investopedia, Americans this year will spend $3.6 billion on costumes for Halloween. That’s in addition to $3.1 billion on candy and $3.4 billion on decorations.

And apparently, kids are not the only Forest Park residents who enjoy making believe.  If you watch the casket races this Saturday, you’ll see some of the team members costumed like their children and having fun doing it.

All of this is not lost on the business community. Viewed through the eyes of a business owner, Halloween is an opportunity to make money. Right by the checkout lanes at Ed’s Way, for example, there’s a table heaped with Three Musketeers, M&Ms and other bite-sized candies.

Outside the building that houses Forest Foot Care and the Foundry/FP strollers on Madison Street, you’ll encounter two 15-foot-high skeletons and a 6-foot-tall Frankenstein. The Chamber of Commerce runs the casket races and events like the St. Patrick’s Day Parade partly to take advantage of the spirit of the various holidays to attract foot traffic to Forest Park’s main business strip.

But along with making money, part of their motivation is contributing to the spirit of community. When asked why village hall has five witches sponsored by the Arts Alliance outside the building, Village Administrator Moses Amidei said, “Our seasonal events and traditions are something that we all look forward to throughout the year … continuing and building upon our strong sense of community pride. That is our collective responsibility.”

The tag line for park communications is “Take time for fun!” The Park’s executive director, Jackie Iovinelli, said, “We enjoy seeing the expression on the faces of the children as they see the decorations. We have also noticed families taking family photos in the pumpkin patches.”

The primary concern of Police Chief Ken Gross is, of course, public safety, but he also sees Halloween as a chance to have fun. “It is a day of potential hijinks,” he acknowledged, “but it’s a fun day for children and those enjoying a costume party or two.  The police department hopes that it is a safe and enjoyable day for everyone celebrating.”

Forest Park’s two Lutheran pastors, however, viewed Halloween through more critical eyes. Rev. David Mercurio, pastor of St. Paul Thai Lutheran Church, said, “When I was a kid, neighborhood children would dress up as scarecrows, cartoon characters and an occasional hobo. In the decades since, Halloween fell off the rails. Today we have a culture that celebrates death and all things demonic. Kids dress up as hideous blood-soaked murderers.”

The pastor of St. John Lutheran Church, Rev. Leonard Payton, was also critical, agreeing that some costumes have become “tasteless or even objectionable,” but his main problem with Halloween celebrations nowadays is that they trivialize the demonic and death. 

“Our culture cartoonizes death at Halloween,” Payton said. “Otherwise, it tries to deny its existence. There is some denial that a cosmic, pitched battle is going on here between life and the inevitable consequences of sin in our bodies. But when we cordon ourselves off from the reality of death, we also neglect the resurrection. We live as if this life is all there is, and in so doing, dig and scratch for present comforts and diversions, always finding that they are not enough. Small wonder we live with an epidemic of depression and despair.”

Rev. Payton added that for Lutherans and many other Protestant denominations, Oct. 31 is Reformation Day. “On that day in 1517,” he explained, “Martin Luther posted a notice for a debate on the practices of indulgences. For some amount of money, the Pope would sell you remission from some sins, an indulgence. Well, that humble monk posted a notice that set off a firestorm because it cut off the cash flow right at the ankles. The pushback was swift and fierce.”

And speaking of cash flow, “Taxes might seem quite certain here in Illinois, and especially in Cook County. But that’s not quite true. Death is so much more certain than taxes. Indeed, it is the one thing in the whole universe that is certain. Death has a 100% record against us. It is, quite simply, the greatest power we know in the universe. And yet, one man did break the power of death. This should be of interest to everyone. His name is Jesus.”