Halloween used to be my favorite holiday, second only to Christmas. As with most kids, it was on my radar many weeks in advance. And it was in my favorite season, fall, in the same month as my birthday. After I had finally finished with smashing pumpkins and soaping windows (sometime during high school), and after I had quit trick or treating (sometime in college), Halloween became just a lot of noise, costumes, begging kids, and make believe terror. The celebration of gore and death, the non-stop train of uninvited guests to the door with parents who couldn’t care less who you were or give you the time of day, and kids learning how to destroy their diet and teeth in one night—it all sent me crawling to a dark corner of the house with the doors locked.
Now that I have two young girls who have had a taste of Halloween that they’ll never forget, it’s all come full circle and I’ve been forced to take part again. Last week their mom took them out trick or treating while l assumed the role of hander-outer. I lit the candles on the front porch and put on a CD with creepy Halloween sounds that kids love to be terrorized by.
It’s always a rough go. We’re in a busy kid-friendly neighborhood, and constant interruptions of a hockey game don’t sit well with me. I thought about simply putting the basket of sweets out on the porch with a sign that read, “Take ONLY ONE or you’ll be grabbed by a witch and ground into soup before you make it down the last step.” Then I thought, why not let them go ahead and take two, three, as many as they want? When Diane comes home with the kids, I'll tell her so many kids swarmed us all the candy went in a few minutes, so I had to shut it down early, nothing like it in years. But lying seemed too sleazy as a way out. I took a Crunchy, turned up the volume on the horror CD, and turned off the lights, hoping that would hold back the tide of visitors a bit, but it only encouraged them.
My youngest, just turned three, had to bail early and came home a little disillusioned. Good, a fellow dissenter, I thought, who shares my beliefs. She continued to watch from “behind the scenes” in fascination, now from the perspective of the hander out, following my every move, running with eagerness each time the door bell rang, until she started grabbing the candy and handing it out herself.
I stood back and saw my little girl transformed. A huge grin covered her face as she looked up wide eyed into the faces of witches, cats, bats, skeletons, and Sponge Bob’s. It seemed that being the treater was more satisfying than being the treatee. The visitors also seemed more appreciative to be getting treats from one of their own, and their “thank you’s” were more genuine. She even gave a candy to one little fairy’s father, who like me was momentarily caught speechless. Then it dawned on me. My three-year-old was teaching me how to give. A pleasure so easily bestowed, a transaction so wonderfully simple—one hand reaching out, the other letting go. I tried – taking my time, smiling, and looking into their eyes. To my surprise, I started to feel happier, more human you might say, like Scrooge coming to life.
I don’t really get into the religious debates popular among some: whether it’s the eve of All Saints Day commemorating the holiest of the holy gone before us, or if you wish, a pagan holiday expressing the early Celts’ fear of and warding off of spirits, or a mix of the two. A paltry few people care about this anyway. For most, Halloween has no more meaning than a traveling costume party with a strange but fun-filled ritual of hand-outs. And I don't think I’ve ever noticed any more spirits on Halloween than on any other night.
I realize Christians have gone out of their way to reclaim this day from the devil, handing out candy wrapped in tracts, for example, or holding private Christian parties, witnessing at the door (which I imagine would scare kids off faster than skeletons would), trying to get to know their neighbors at the door (utterly futile), and handing out hot drinks on the street. Bless them all. But this year, I was the one needing conversion. I needed a Halloween in its most uncomplicated terms, the way only a three-year-old can celebrate it: by giving and receiving, one person to another, monsters and goblins all, letting go like a child, and getting a little giddy about it.