Being a New Zealander in her 30s, I have witnessed the evolution of Halloween back home. While of course I always knew what it was, thanks to popular culture, my friends and I didn’t really celebrate it. My memories consist of two rather unremarkable episodes. The first involved two opportunistic tweens who turned up on the family doorstep in the 80’s wearing some really shoddy home-made masks to trick or treat, and my Dad telling them in no uncertain terms “we aren’t Americans!”. In my teens a school mate had a Halloween party. I went as a ghost, covered in a white table cloth, and quickly discovered that if you didn’t cut out a hole for your mouth it was quite difficult to drink. Flash forward to recent times and each year my mother is uncertain about whether she should buy candy (lollies in NZ) or not. If she doesn’t have the goods, then the trick or treaters visit. If she does buy it, no one comes and she ends up eating two giant bags of chocolate by herself by about 10pm, and then feels annoyed that she fell off her diet.
Therefore this year I was excited to be part of a community that celebrated Halloween full throttle. Not only did the trick or treaters come out in droves, and the majority of houses in my neighbourhood were decorated, but Parkdale/Roncesvalles played host to an awesome annual Halloween community event – the Sorauren Park Pumpkin Parade.
For about a decade, members of the Roncesvalles/Parkdale community have taken their jack-o-lanterns to the park at sunset the day after Halloween and placed them around the perimeter of the park. Once it starts getting dark the lanterns are lit and community members can follow the trail of pumpkins and admire the huge array of artistry carved by their neighbours. The next day the pumpkins are collected by the City of Toronto Solid Waste and Parks, Forestry and Recreation and taken away for compost.
On my way there I was impressed by the amount of foot traffic heading to the parade, with parents dragging large pumpkins in their wagons while their children and canine friends followed closely behind. The wagons making the return journey looked just as heavy. However this time they were filled with exhausted and teary children who were clearly suffering from both major sugar crashes, brought on by all the candy guzzling the night before, and pumpkin separation anxiety.
Once I reached the parade I was taken aback by the sheer number of pumpkins and amount of creative ideas that extended well beyond the old evil face and missing tooth. It is tricky for me to estimate how many there were, but I’ll take a stab and say over 1000. The Wabash Building Society’s Sorauren Park blognotes numbers have been close to 2000 in recent years.
Some of the stand out pumpkin designs for me included a face complete with a human brain carved into the top of it and Breaking Bad’s Walter White. The crowd favourite was undeniably a pumpkin prison complete with bars that had the smug mug of Mayor Rob Ford incarcerated inside. It wasn’t just the designs on the pumpkins which blew me away. It was also the sheer size of them, as the carving pumpkins found in North America are not widely available in New Zealand (NZ), if at all. Ours are small with a green or greyish skin. I don’t think I can look at a NZ agricultural show’s prize-winning pumpkin with an ounce of respect again after attending this parade.
While I really enjoyed the event, I didn’t stay for too long as the crowds and children got a little bit overwhelming. Plus all the attractive males in the crowd had babies strapped to their chests.
An event such as the pumpkin parade makes you feel quite proud to live in the Parkdale/Roncesvalles neighbourhood. It was nice to feel included in the community, even if I didn’t carve and display a jack-o-lantern. However if I had, and it didn’t turn out too bad, maybe I’d be inclined to hold onto it rather than suffer the consequences of pumpkin separation anxiety.