I am a Halloween grinch. My husband and I retreat to watch television, keeping the sound low so that children coming to our apartment door won’t know that we are at home. Last night though, I opened the door by mistake, thinking it was the mailman. Three screeching children were running around in circles shrieking “Trick or treat!” “Trick or treat” and as soon as I gave them a cookie, they ran away. A frowning mother, backed up by three other frowning, distracted adults, shouted, “Did you say thank you? Did you say thank you,” but the children were already tearing down the corridor toward the next apartment. They weren’t communicating with anybody by either listening or speaking – not each other, not me, not their parents.
Halloween is a spectacle gussied up by two-dollar costumes which brings not joy but mania and is as empty of meaning as a ritual could possibly be.
I noticed last night that not much had changed since the years when I lived in a big house, turned on the light, prepared treats, and even occasionally wore a costume myself. About ten years ago, the ritual of Halloween changed. I’d open the door to three or four children fighting each other to be first in line to grab the treat, no eye contact with me, no thank you, and usually not even a “trick or treat” or even a “hi.” Parents stood at the bottom of the driveway staring at me mirthlessly, gauging whether I looked like the sort of person who put arsenic or a razor blade in the apples. This felt demeaning and I finally turned off the lights and retreated to the television room.
Just so you know, this is how we did it when I was a kid. We borrowed something from our parents, took something out of the costume trunk upstairs, or otherwise cobbled together a costume. It was amazing how much we could do with such limited stocks. Our parents had nothing to do with the costume creation. I figured it out with my brothers or my friends. When we were very young, my friends and I went through only the immediate neighborhood, unchaperoned, since my parents were at their own door handing out treats. As we grew older, we could go farther afield until, when I was a teenager, we started out in my neighborhood and went all the way to Upper Mountain Avenue, walking from 5:00 in the afternoon until about 9:30. We must have covered three miles, stopping at each house on both sides of the street. My brothers had their own set of Halloween friends and followed separate routes. I’d put my bag of candy in the closet and took out one piece at a time. Once it lasted until Easter.
Though my childhood Halloweens had already lost any deeper religious or historical meaning, they at least bathed us in something I would call fun rather than mania, and the people providing us treats were granted a moment of laughter and conversation so they, too, could enjoy it.
At least Halloween is followed by the lovely authenticity of Thanksgiving.