A facsimilie of the author’s first Halloween costume. Image via flickr user oddharmonic.
I’ll always remember my first Halloween costume. It was a brown paper bag. It was certainly eye-catching, but not what I had hoped for. Dad cut two eye socket holes so I could see and made a generous slit for my mouth so I could breathe. I wore normal clothes underneath and black shoes. He walked me down the driveway and watched me walk from house to house with a brown bag over my head asking neighbours to pour sweet candy into my plastic bag. Every now and then I’d stop and look back and I’d see Dad waving, in a classic Wonder Years kind of moment. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I thought the brown paper bag was lame, so I kept going. I wanted to be a Spider Man or have fangs in my mouth that dripped with fake blood. I also wanted it to be dark. When I did the trick-or-treating route it was 5:00 p.m. and the sun was glowing. Growing up in Melbourne’s South-East, Halloween was not a big deal. It’s usually the time of year when horror movie marathons get a flogging on TV and merchants cling on to the marketing concept of Halloween, but no-one really gets the spirit of how it should be celebrated, as I know now.
I can remember, even during my teenage years, my neighbours did not buy into trick-or-treaters. One year a friend and I dressed up as burglars (in hindsight, probably not the best idea) and we painted our faces black using boot polish. The first door we knocked on was greeted with, “Aren’t you boys too old for this?” Then closed the door. Too old? At 16? We felt though, he may have had a point. So we retreated back home and spent the rest of the evening removing boot polish from our faces. Apart from the small minority who throw subtle parties with a few friends (i.e. sitting on lawn chairs in the backyard reciting ghost stories, while “Monster Mash” is on repeat), Halloween in Melbourne sucks. It’s hardly the frat party I’ve come to know, here in Toronto.
In 2007, I went to my first Toronto Halloween shindig on the Captain Johns boat. Standing in line, waiting to be let in, I was in awe at the extraordinary lengths patrons went to, to embellish their costumes. Next to me was Bender from Futurama. “That must have taken months to make?” I gasped. I saw Zombies and Draculas with ever so detailed heads. Someone had actually dressed up as a world map. It was mesmerizing and clever, I thought. On the boat I spent a good hour just observing. It was like a circus on Mars; aliens mingling with weird human objects. The costumes were outrageous (to me, anyway). On the dance floor I witnessed a giant Lego man dancing with a toilet; a mac computer; Terry Fox runners; and a poor mans version of Chewbacca. That year there were lots of Ellen Page wannabes from Juno — bellies stuffed with pillows, carrying over sized gallons of OJ. To cap the night off, Feist was there. She walked in as I was leaving: Even Canadian celebs show up for Halloween soirees.
That evening proved to be the catalyst for my change in Halloween psyche. No longer would I “lame” it. Why? Because I’d be left behind. Torontonians actually think more about their Halloween costumes than Christmas gifts for Grandma Betty. T-dotters start scheming their apparel six months in advance, but the earlier the better it seems. There’s been occasions when I’ve been on the Queen Street West streetcar and I’ve heard “ oh, I’ve just found my Halloween costume for this year. I’m going as Bob from work,” to which a friend replies, “Dude, Halloween is like eight months away.” I like that forward thinking; I like the commitment. If I didn’t think long and hard about my next costume, I’d be shunned. I’ve seen people turned away from parties for putting in a half-arsed job.
Here’s the scenario I now fear the most:
*A guy knocks on the door of a party dressed in normal clothes*
“What are you meant to be?” says the host.
“Um. A cameraman?”
The message here is simple: think long and hard about your costume, or, you can take that six-pack and go drink under a tree by yourself.
Torontonians also carry a sense of pride that it actually took five months to make their outfit; the longer the better. Halloween attire ends up becoming year-long projects for some. Home-owners put off tending to the back patio and replace that time with tending to building high-tech Halloween garbs. Now, that’s a dedication I admire. I actually got inspired one year by the Toronto DIY mindset, I once made a giant packet of Marlboro cigarettes (a 60s version) and wore it to a 60s themed Christmas party. It was cumbersome, but darn, I was proud to wear it. I’ve come to terms with how Halloween doesn’t matter in Melbourne. I’m cool with that. But knowing how much fun, how absorbing it is in Toronto, I kind of wish Melburnians eulogized it more than they do. Thank you Toronto, thank you.
Justin Robertson is a freelance journalist from Toronto. His work has appeared in The Walrus, National Post and Toronto Standard. Follow Justin on Twitter @justinjourno