I’ll never forget my fourth grade Halloween costume. And neither will my mother. Dressed as The Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger (glove, mask, striped red shirt, and all), my ultimate goal was to collect the largest trick or treat bag of candy by differentiating myself from the pack of more traditional witches and princesses. As I fast forward in time about fifteen years, I find it odd that as an adult at the very serious Harvard Business School I’m still looking to find that over-the-top outfit. However, my rationale today is very different from when I was growing up.
From childhood to adulthood, I have found that the celebration of Halloween has become more elaborate and commercial since I was a fourth grader. What started as a children’s holiday, dedicated to dressing up and collecting candy door to door, is now embraced by adults – not for the candy but for the dressing up.
From suburbia to the major cities, the trend of extending the age bracket celebration of this “children’s” holiday has become ever more evident. As a former food scientist working at Kraft Foods in Tarrytown, NY, our site was located between the towns of Sleepy Hollow and Irvington, right in the middle of the land where Washington Irving immortalized his legendary Halloween classic, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. All through October, the local communities of both towns would fully embrace the Halloween celebration with annual fairs, adult costume contests, vintage horror film screenings, and beer and wine tastings.
Another not to be missed adult Halloween celebration is the annual New York City Greenwich Village Halloween Parade. I am still amazed when I recall the wild costumes that I saw there last year. From the flamboyant to the outrageous to the hysterical, New Yorkers certainly know how to put on a show! I will never forget the Krispy Kreme donut that walked passed me on the corner of Sixth Avenue and West 4th.
Fortunately, we have in our own backyard, the heart of all spooky adult Halloween retreats: Salem, MA. Shortly before this coming Halloween, I plan to revisit this haunted place with my fellow Section I classmates. During Halloween, Salem is a town where the annual celebration of death and adult costuming is practically mandatory.
So why is it that so many adults embrace Halloween? Why are so many adult activities centered around the celebration of a former children’s-only holiday? In my opinion, it is a result of the mounting tensions from within today’s society and the growing desire for adults to find a much needed release from those tensions. In essence, Halloween is a fun holiday. It is a safe environment for adults to lose their real identities, let loose, and become someone else for the night. Perhaps this is why even at prestigious, staid, and highly competitive Harvard Business School, events such as the annual Priscilla Ball are always sold out.
While it is possible that many of the world’s future business leaders prefer to dress up in drag and as ladies of the night, I prefer to believe that it is the context of the dance, a safe environment to be silly and escape from the daily academic pressures of campus life, which makes this event so popular.
As adults, we continue to search for that perfect Halloween outfit, although we no longer pursue the goal of “maximum candy accumulation”. However, the goal of differentiation, the desire to be “over the top,” by nature has not. Whether young or old, Halloween is a holiday based on fun. For some of us it’s an escape, for others it is just a good time. Although Halloween’s meaning has evolved, many of us in the world still anticipate its coming in late October. Regardless of motive, Halloween only comes once a year, so I say dress as you dare in your most outrageous and enjoy!