Sometime, somewhere along the line, someone hijacked Halloween.
Now, let me say that I know that some people regard Halloween as a holiday with roots in paganism and to be avoided at all cost. And while seeing a child dressed up as a devil or a ghost or Jon or Kate Gosselin should probably give us pause to reflect on what we’re teaching our children, I’m ready for everyone to ease up.
When I was a kid, lo, those many years ago, Halloween was about three things.
First, it was about dressing up in a costume. It was a day that allowed you to pick out any character you wanted – fictional or real – and play dress up. My most memorable costumes as a kid were Uncle Fester (from the Addams Family), a mummy, a bandit, a cowboy, a hobo and a clown. As an adult, I’ve continued the tradition from time to time and have been a Christmas tree (complete with lights), a pajama-clad sleeper, Alfalfa (from The Little Rascals), a cow, and a bottle of two-buck Chuck. I still like to dress up in costume once in awhile (although this year, I’m going to pass).
Second, it was about candy – lots of candy. My trick-or-treat range when I was a kid was enormous. And my window for trick-or-treating was long. I was never a plastic-pumpkin carrying kid. Give me a plastic shopping bag or, better yet, a pillowcase. I need capacity. I can remember one year filling a pillowcase so full of candy that I had to stop at the end of every block and rest on the last trek home.
Finally, it was about freedom. Halloween was usually the first time a kid got to be out on his or her own for a night. Growing up in McMinnville, Tennessee, there was no more danger than anywhere else – probably less. So by the age of about 10, my buddy Jack and I were pretty much cut loose to go where we wanted. “Be back by 9:00 or 10:00” was my instruction. One year, we ventured almost 2 miles from where we lived – two miles of wall-to-wall houses. I’m pretty sure that was the year of the burgeoning pillowcase and the root of some of my adult back problems.
It wasn’t until I was well into my 20s or 30s that the notion arose that Halloween was based on satanic ritual or the worship of the occult. I’m sure some of it is true, and some of it has been fabricated as well.
But sometimes I just wonder – aren’t some things only as big as we make them? Does everything have to be blown up into this major deal? Why can’t Halloween just be a time when kids (and adults) dress up, laugh at themselves, eat a little (or a lot) of candy and have a little fun? Why do we have to care about its origin? The origin of the fireplace was a source of warmth and a place to cook meals inside. Anyone cooking dinner on their fireplace tonight? The origin of shutters on your windows was to close them during rain storms to keep water and debris out. Anyone battening down their shutters for the rain that’s supposed to fall tonight?
Of all my Halloween memories as a kid, I never once recall Jack, straining under the weight of a bag of candy big enough to anchor a boat, looking at me as we walked home and saying, “you know, Chuck, we really shouldn’t be out here because this is a holiday that’s roots are deep in the ancient Celtic belief that tonight was the last night of the year and the ghosts of the dead returned to walk on earth.” He never said that. Nor did I. And it wasn’t just because our mouths were full of Jolly Ranchers and Kraft Caramels (which they probably were)!