We are past Halloween, but I have something to say about it.
Halloween matters. In my opinion, it is very important that you send or take your children around your neighborhood, ring doorbells, have them interact with people you perhaps do not know. If you are home, it is very important that you leave your lights on, put out at least an electric pumpkin, and prepare to hand out candy to little clutches of costumed kids. Exceptions exist, of course, where health issues exist, but those are few. If you think there is nothing at stake, you have not thought it through.
It matters for this reason. Halloween represents the reaffirmation of our social trust.
Our social trust says, in one American dialect that puts the matter well, that we are down for our ‘hood. It says we care for our neighbors, and that in a pinch, we would not slam our doors on them. There was a Civil War general who explained his choice of side in roughly these terms: ‘I’m for my country. Then I’m for my state. Then I’m for my town. Comes down to it, I’m for my side of the street.’
Our social trust has been damaged by fear, fed to us by those who prefer to see us cower. When you bring your children to your neighbors’ homes in costumes, you defy that fear. When your neighbors accept that their evening will be disrupted (or energized) once a year by groups of children performing a social ritual, coming onto their property and calling unannounced, they defy that fear. When we all do this, we all flip the bird at those who seek to divide us.
Religion does not play into it. Sending your kids around for candy, or handing it out, will do nothing to endorse any religion. Look around society, if you doubt me, and tell me what percentage of Halloween activity appears religious. You will have to hunt for it. You might find absolutely none. Those for whom it is in fact religious are nowhere near what you are doing on October 31. Ducking it on religious grounds is chickenshit. Chicken shit is very gross. You do not want to be that.
Trunk-or-treat, the bubblewrap solution, is no solution. It does not bring your children into positive contact with your neighbors at their homes. It sucks out the last bit of adventure. It is the fearful solution. It is a surrender. If you are doing that, might as well formally give up, because you have given up in spirit.
When you bring your children to my property in costumes, have them ring my doorbell, and trick or treat me, you tell me that you trust me to be a kindly, decent human being who will treat your young well. You inspire me to prove that true. As you and I exchange smiles while the kids return to you, you no longer see me as some stranger. If you know nothing else about me, you now know that when your children came to my door, I was fun, appropriate and participatory. That’s progress. That’s the village you have been told it takes to raise a child.
If your children’s safety is your greatest concern, this can offer reassurance and comfort. Ask yourself how easy it would be for harm to befall your child in an area surrounded by decent people who are happy to take their turns doing for kids as was done for them in their youth, and who do not reject your child even when it’s simple for them to do so? It would be rather difficult for them to come to harm, would it not? What if something did happen, at some other time? Where would the child go for aid? To a random home, or to a home that at least participated in this annual ritual? You know the answer. It’s not about candy. It is about participation and community. It is about giving the people around you credit for not being evil, unless/until they indicate otherwise.
Every year, I look forward to Halloween, and hope for good weather. I put out my electric pumpkin (this requires an extension cord about the distance of a respectable football punt), I load up on good candy, and I hope devoutly that the kids will come and collect it all. The last thing in the world I need is to eat leftover candy. When the doorbell rings, I make haste to don my monster mask and rush to the door. I open the door. “Trick or treat!” say the children. “BLLLUUUUEEEEEEGGGGGH!” I answer, toning it down a tad bit if they are all really little. I keep making the same noise as I distribute liberal handfuls of Butterfingers and Reese’s cups, though awareness of my cousin’s allergies has made me consider choosing other candies. The kids nearly always love it. They say whatever they say, sometimes thanking me, as I continue my inarticulate growls. I wave to the parent and growl at her. I do not get many trick-or-treaters, but those I do get…we have fun together.
If the kids know nothing else of the people who live at my house, they know there is someone there who participates and has fun with them. The social trust is reinforced. I’m not afraid they will harm my property. They are not afraid I will harm their health. We live near each other, and we are safer. It’s not just them. What if one of their friends was proposing vandalizing me? Think five years ahead: “No way. That guy is all right. At Halloween, he’s totally cool. No M-80 in his mailbox, or I will beat your ass.” I benefit as well.
As long as my doorbell rings at least once each Halloween, wherever I live and for as long as I live, I will put out the pumpkin, don the mask, and dish out good candy. I recently read a sanctimonious and hackneyed piece from Robert Reich that parroted the old peer pressure to vote. It lowered my opinion of his intellect, because it presented nothing new. It was simply peer-pressure shaming, with no originality. It was not designed to appeal to a thinker. All it did was make me consider Reich a hack.
Tell you what, Robert Reich. I do vote. Whether I cast a ballot or not is no indication of whether I vote. I vote by giving out candy to kids. I vote by knowing my neighbors, and resolving issues with them by conversation and compromise rather than lawyers and whining. I vote by making sure that my neighbors know that I will not harm them, that I will watch over them, and that if the chips are down, they can trust and come to me. I vote against fear. I refuse to live in fear. I will promote a living region without fear. You and your political faction’s promises are unimportant by comparison.
When you participate in Halloween, this unofficial but longstanding tradition, you do a good thing, whether you are a parent, child, or homeowner. It matters more than people imagine.