Okay, I admit it: I’ve never been a Halloween devotee. Sure, it was fun as a kid, but my memories are pretty dim (as is true in most categories). We lived out of town on a farm so we didn’t get many trick-or-treaters. Most years we drove into town and made the rounds of the small village, but the haul wasn’t anything to write home about. I don’t think we ever bought a costume, but did anybody in the late 50’s and 60’s? Interesting that my most specific memory is of taking a UNICEF carton with me and asking for donations for children worldwide. And of the teenage year when I joined in roaming the streets, scrambling where we shouldn’t have and running when we thought we might get caught. One year in college, I dressed as a Martian and discovered how hard it is to move when wrapped in aluminum foil. And there was the seminary year when I borrowed a miter and collar and paraded as a bishop – totally unrecognizable to non-divinity students. If I’d ever had a future in costumes, that was the year that I closed the door and sealed it shut. Since then, I’ve played along and bought an abundance of candy in case this was the year we were overwhelmed by knocks on the door. Never to be disappointed when I was left with an overflowing bowl and nonempty bags at the end of the night. Finally, I was forced to give up the mirage in our current setting where never has a trick-or-treater been seen, and admit that any bags of candy purchased were simply for me.
Maybe it’s just the curmudgeon in me, but I confess I was weary of it all yesterday as soon as I stepped into the dentist’s office and saw cat ears sitting at the computer. Then I was escorted down the hall by a woman wearing one piece pjs with a bunny tale on her butt. My hygienist admitted that her tooth fairy wings were annoying her, and then her helper stepped in to polish my teeth and worried that the mask over her mouth would mess with her cat’s nose. Store clerks had scars on their arms, spiders on their cheeks and capes over their shoulders. I managed to walk within reach of the candy bowl a few times, but escaped the lure of displays of chocolate everywhere, all the while wondering what universe I’d stumbled into.
I hope that saying all of this doesn’t brand me as a kill joy forever, but I really don’t get it. I like to believe that I have a sense of humor; I may be lacking in the goofiness category, but I appreciate a lively imagination and a spirit of playfulness as much as anyone. But when did our observance of Halloween morph into fanaticism? How is it possible that consumers in 2017 are likely to have spent $9.1 billion dollars on these festivities, up from $8.4 billion a year ago? I was saddened years ago when home baked goodies and healthy apples were outlawed, but I reluctantly concede that we live in a day when treats need to be store packaged and antiseptically sealed. I smiled when the tooth fairy said she didn’t think she’d resort to giving out toothbrushes, and wondered if anyone hands out packets of baby carrots or raisins anymore. What is this day all about anyway?
Bottom line of all of it, I have never understood our fascination with a holiday that sends our children out to knock on doors in order to hold out a bag and say Gimme! Or what the thrill is in skeletons and spiders, bats and witches. Life is scary enough, and the entertainment factor of shrieks and shock is lost on me. As for wearing masks: there’s consistently more hiding behind things and pretending to be someone we’re not than I think is healthy or helpful; putting another one on has no appeal to me.
So how about this: I’ll give you the day. A month, if you insist. Knock yourself out. Dress in whatever costume you enjoy wearing, decorate your house and scare your neighbors. Personally, I’d prefer a less extravagant use of money, but I guess what you do with yours is up to you. And when it’s over, starting today, how about if we invest some energy together in going back to those very same doors and knocking again, except this time to smile and say, here, this is for you. What if we pull down and pack away the frightening and terrorizing, and in their place hang welcome signs and warming lights, set out baskets of trinkets for the taking and apples for the sharing. The masks can go back on the shelf for another year, and between now and then, we can experiment with a little more bare faced honesty, daring to reveal to others glimpses of the fears we hide, the tears we swallow, the tenderness we shield, the love we disguise. Maybe, to help me get started, I’ll swing by the store and see what the half-price candy sales have to offer.