Letting fear rule your life

Halloween night at Disneyland - photo by E. Jurus
Halloween night at Disneyland – photo by E. Jurus

There’s been quite a kerfuffle in the Niagara Region over the past few days.  A number of elementary schools have announced that they’re no longer letting their students dress up in Halloween costumes. The students will be allowed to dress in orange and black and celebrate what’s being called a Spirit Day.

Officially the premise is that Spirit Day is a more ‘inclusive’ celebration, and to a certain extent I can understand the desirability for inclusion, but when it comes to Halloween, in my experience there’s always someone’s hidden agenda when celebrations of this much-loved holiday are quashed. In other words, someone has religious objections.

Everyone has the right to practice their own religion, but they don’t have the right to impose their own restrictions on other people. For those who aren’t comfortable with the concept of Halloween, it’s easy for them to abstain from the celebrations. Destroying the fun for others is mean-spirited.

Let me state categorically that those of us who love Halloween do it for fun and to let our hair down. We are not going to hell, we aren’t witches or devil-worshipers, nor are we necessarily pagan – I’m Catholic, as it happens.

We enjoy the chill in the air, brightly-lit pumpkins, the sense of the mysterious, and a good ghost story. Halloween provides a lovely vicarious thrill – we enjoy the feeling of danger without actually being in any.

My hubby and I have had some great Halloween parties, and we love it when guests get really creative with their characters and costumes. My favourite to date was when one of our buddies dressed up as the Hunchback of Notre Dame and spent 10 minutes moaning while he tried to open the bar fridge door – it was hilarious.

Halloween is a chance to step outside our ordinary lives, to be anyone or anything, to indulge in a little healthy spookiness and some shivers. I love decorating my house with gargoyles, pumpkins in all shapes and sizes, spider web table cloths, flickering candles – I have an entire Halloween village in my office that lives there all year round.

I can understand that some of the more extreme celebrations can be disturbing to some – I don’t like goriness and many of the more sleazy/suggestive costumes either, but everyone has different tastes and I can choose to avoid places and events that include them.

One of my former occasional co-workers was a bit distressed by a tombstone with a couple of mild skulls and the words “Happy Halloween” that I put on my desk. We had a friendly discussion about it, but what she told me was a bit disturbing: her religious background had raised her to believe that even looking at something like a Halloween skull would invite eternal damnation.

Fear is a powerful way to influence someone – it’s our most potent emotion, and organizations have used it for centuries to control people. You only have to look at most of the marketing in today’s media to see how fear is used to manipulate: are your teeth white enough, do you have bodily odour, are your shoes/clothing not cool enough, do you have incredibly bad bacteria contaminating every corner of your lives…

Many of our fears are self-imposed as well. Some are healthy fears – avoiding things are known to be harmful, like poison ivy – but I continually run into people who fear all kinds of nebulous things, like change, or stepping outside their comfort zone.

Our fears limit us. They put chains around us that can take over our lives. I felt awful for that co-worker, who essentially lives in in a prison of fear that the devil’s influence lurks around every corner waiting to trap her. Surely a strong sense of faith should preclude living in such fear. All of us should take the time to examine our fears and decide whether that’s the way we want to live, or if we can reason through them and break free.

To those who want to ruin Halloween for the rest of us, I say Boo Humbug!

Filling your dreams to the brim with fright…

Entrance to Disneyland on Halloween night - photo by E. Jurus
Entrance to Disneyland on Halloween night – photo by E. Jurus
Entrance to Disneyland Hotel - photo by E Jurus
Entrance to Disneyland Hotel – photo by E Jurus

If you’re thinking of spending a Halloween with Disney, now’s the time to start planning! Tickets will go on sale next month, and they go quickly.
My husband and I went to Disneyland for October 30 & 31 two years ago, and we had a blast. We stayed at the Disneyland Hotel, which overlooks Downtown Disney. In California everything’s accessible by foot – we walked out from our hotel into the thick of the shops, restaurants and entertainment ‘downtown’, and a further 10 minute walk brought us to the gates of both Disneyland and California Adventure.

Shop window on Main Street USA - photo by E Jurus
Shop window on Main Street USA – photo by E Jurus

Signs of Halloween were everywhere – hay bales, pumpkins both real and faux (including a giant pumpkin-head Mickey at the entrance to Main Street USA, Halloween treats for sale in shops and restaurants, and lots of creepy/cute merchandise in the shops.

On Halloween, Disneyland closes to the general public around 3pm, and re-opens at 6pm for people with tickets to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. These tickets must be reserved in advance and are an additional cost over and above your park-hopper passes, but they’re well worth the extra cost! During the late afternoon on October 31st there’s an air of excitement – people dressed up in costume ( both children and adults) begin heading for the park, street entertainers come out, and the lights at the entrance to Disneyland start to glow. The atmosphere is like a big street party.

Food is available in the parks in the evening, but we chose to fortify ourselves at one of the restaurants in Downtown Disney first, then went back to the hotel to change. If you’re going, please note that the temperature can drop considerably at night even in the sunny states, and our night was no exception. I had on a long-sleeved costume and was still chilled by the end of the party.

Once inside the park, there are loads of things to do. All the day’s rides are open, but there are also dance

Main St USA on Halloween Night - photo by E Jurus
Main St USA on Halloween Night – photo by E Jurus

parties in different locations, the opportunity to have your  photo taken in front of the giant pumpkin Mickey (the professional photographer will use either his own camera or yours, or both – you pick) trick-or-treat stations that were patronized just as much by adults as kids when we were there, the opportunity to meet and pose with your favourite Disney villain (very popular and they rotate shifts, so if this is a must-do for you line up early before your character leaves for a break), shops galore, fireworks and a Halloween parade as the finale.

Adults lined up at the trick-or-treat station along the lagoon - photo by E Jurus
Adults lined up at the trick-or-treat station along the lagoon – photo by E Jurus

Glowing ghostly Mickey heads light your way around the park, an eerie blue fog billows across the lagoon and haunting music makes your feet itch to dance. It’s a night to celebrate all that’s dark and creepy, Disney style. Lest you think this party is just for children, let me tell you that at least half the people there that night were adults, and most of them were in costume. Although I’m not a fan of the commercialism that has crept into the Disney parks, nobody does parties like they do! This was an item on my bucket list, and it didn’t disappoint.

I haven’t been to Disney World for Halloween, so I can’t compare between the two, but there is

The gates to the Haunted Mansion, Jack Skellington-style - photo by E Jurus
The gates to the Haunted Mansion, Jack Skellington-style – photo by E Jurus

one significant difference: in Disneyland, for the Halloween season the Haunted Mansion is converted into The Nightmare Before Christmas both indoors and out – the plantation-style mansion drips with Spanish moss, special black & white-ribboned Halloween flower arrangements, pumpkins and Jack Skellington’s Christmas list, and of course Jack himself presides over the entire thing.

Inside, the ride has been transformed as well, into a spectacular multi-coloured journey tweaked with Jack’s special style – it’s so cool, even my hubby was impressed. Disneyland also sells a lot of Jack Skellington merchandise, so if you’re a fan, that might be an added incentive. My hubby bought a ‘Tall, Dark & Gruesome’ t-shirt that he wore under his lab coat as a mad scientist; I was his freaky-looking re-stitched and partially-revived creation.

photo by E Jurus
photo by E Jurus

Planning tips:

  • When I booked, tickets went on sale at the beginning of July for Disney club members, and later in the month for non-members. The online order system had gone down, so I spent a dedicated 45 minutes on the phone calling back repeatedly until I got a live person.
  • There are rules for dressing in costume at Disney: 1) you can dress as a Disney character but you’re not allowed to pose for photos with people you don’t know; 2) costumes can’t drag on the ground (tripping/ride machinery hazard); 3) your eyes must be visible (coloured contacts are allowed – mine were dead white); 4) your costume can’t scare small children. Most people do dress as Disney characters, but you don’t have to, although doing that will likely increase your chance of being selected to ride in the parade.
  • Daytime temps are quite nice but, as I mentioned previously, the temperature can drop quite a bit after dark, so be prepared – I saw quite a few women shivering in sleeveless outfits.
  • Buying an ‘all-inclusive’ package can save you some money. You get vouchers for meals that are supposed to be specific to certain restaurants and meals, but when we were there the serving staff encouraged us to use them for just about any meal.
  • Wear comfy shoes; even in Disneyland, which is more compact, you’ll still do lots of walking.
  • If you’re interested in doing the Disneyland version, there’s transportation between the airport (LAX) and Disneyland. In Los Angeles, there are tons of things to see, including the original Universal Studios park, Grauman’s Chinese Theater, Hollywood, other movie studios, the fabulous Getty Museum…the list is practically endless. If you rent a car, you can drive up the coast to Malibu, visit beautiful Santa Barbara, and generally enjoy the wonderful California weather, scented with the ocean and eucalyptus trees.
  • Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party runs on selected nights throughout the Halloween season, so if you can’t make it for Halloween night itself, there are still plenty of other dates to enjoy it. The one on Halloween itself wasn’t nearly as crowded as I was afraid it might be, just a nice amount of people wandering around and enjoying the ambience. Please check this year’s dates and times on the Disney websites (Disneyland and Disney Worldfor the most up-to-date information.