Halloween is such a strange and wonderful holiday. We put masks on our kids and send them out to shake down the neighbors for candy. Then, instead of eating our vegetables, we carve scary faces into them and put them on the porch to slowly rot.
My only complaint about Halloween is that it’s just one night. So when I saw Facebook ads for a month-long Halloween extravaganza called The Glow: A Jack O’Lantern Experience, I was already on board.
My husband, Steve, on the other hand, had to be talked into it. “We’re paying $25 to drive to Reston at rush hour to see some carved pumpkins?”
“It’s not just some carved pumpkins. It’s 5,000 carved pumpkins, lit up at night, around a lake,” I said. “Plus, The Post is paying for it.”
That clinched it, so we headed to Lake Fairfax Park, and I immediately saw that I had been mistaken. I’d imagined the jack-o’-lanterns sitting on the shoreline, their flickering lights reflected in moonlit water. Instead, all 5,000 of them had been laid out in a boring old field.
This was our first clue that The Glow, while long on pumpkins, would be short on imagination.
We walked along a roped-off pathway to the beginning of the display, which was marked with a heap of grinning jack-o’-lanterns. Unfortunately, there was no flicker of life behind their eyes — and not just because they contained electric lights instead of candles. The problem was that they were all too perfect. Though hand-carved, several of the pumpkins had identical faces, and the effect was unintentionally creepy. If your neighbor ever puts out a bunch of pumpkins that have been carved with this level of surgical precision, he’s definitely a serial killer and I recommend avoiding his house even if he’s handing out full-size candy bars.
Continuing on the pathway, we passed several displays that reminded me of children’s birthday parties where the parents refused to pony up for official Disney-licensed decorations. For instance, there was a generic pirate area that clearly wanted to have a “Pirates of the Caribbean” theme, and a Christmas-meets-Halloween area that seemed designed to echo “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” from its long-limbed characters to the off-brand Danny Elfman music.
There were some legit Disney characters on display, too, and this was a clear highlight for the kids at the event. “Moana!” I heard several children cheer when they saw the Polynesian heroine carved into a pumpkin. They didn’t seem to mind that she was peeking out from the window of a medieval-style prop castle — a setting that works better with more typical Disney princesses. (Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” looked more at home on the castle display.)
Though technically impressive, the whole spectacle left me feeling a little, well, hollow. Not once did I see an oddly shaped pumpkin transformed into something that took advantage of its gourd-y idiosyncrasies. Instead, the pumpkins were treated like identical blank canvases and inscribed with images so anodyne, they even bored children.
“Look, honey, a dinosaur,” I overheard a woman say to her dozing toddler. “You love dinosaurs!”
About midway through The Glow, there was one display that did provoke an emotional response from many visitors. It was a pumpkin carved with the likeness of our current president.
“They captured his skin tone perfectly,” one woman quipped.
“I wish I had a rock,” another woman said. Her son then picked up a rock from the gravel-strewn path and handed it to her. I don’t know if he was calling her bluff or just being helpful, but he seemed disappointed when she put it down and moved on.
The Trump pumpkin, which sits next to pumpkin portraits of our previous three presidents, was specially designed for D.C.’s The Glow event, a staff person later told me. Other than that, D.C.’s The Glow is pretty much identical to the Philadelphia and Nashville versions. And that, I think, is the problem.
The Glow is a homogenized experience, designed to be plunked down with equal success anywhere in the U.S. And it’s not even an original idea — several competing companies are producing similar events, including The Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular in Louisville, Ky., and Providence, R.I., and Rise of the Jack O’Lanterns in New York City and on Long Island.
Now that I’ve been to one of these jack-o’-lantern spectacles, I find the whole trend disheartening. I appreciate the skill and effort that went into carving all those pumpkins, but they didn’t make me anywhere near as happy as a random street lit up with lopsided, homemade jack-o’-lanterns. Steve and I would have been happier if we’d skipped The Glow and hosted our own pumpkin-carving extravaganza instead. It may be tempting to leave the sharp knives and goopy mess to the professionals, but it’s not nearly as much fun.
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