Tag Archives: halloween

Why Halloween matters

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.

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How we used to do things

Maybe it’s interesting, maybe it’s not, but daily life has changed on a tremendous scale in just my adult life. And the old everything was not best. Some of the past was better. Quite a bit was worse.

Halloween of old was much, much better.

Halloween drove me to think about this. While it is no secret that I am not very good at relating to small children, I always expected to have my redemption at Halloween. When I became a homeowner, I hoped to have fun, putting on a mask, scaring the kids a little, but always giving out the good candy. No candy corn or apples here. No way.

By the time I was in a position to do Halloween, though, it was gone. No longer did free-range packs of kids have to come up with their own strategies for canvassing the neighborhood and obtaining the maximum quantity of unhealthy snacks. Nope. They’d be escorted by parents in all cases, squired around, and generally would not be permitted to have adventures or be independent. Or they’d be hauled to the controlled environment of ‘trunk-or-treat.’

Because everyone in our society magically changed into a rampaging pedophile or sicko. If you dared let your children out of your sight, before Halloween night was done, they would all be assaulted, traumatized, and/or seriously harmed by the drugs, razor blades, and other unnatural additives The Enemy (by definition, everyone else) would foist upon the poor tykes. It went along with the Rise of Fear. Fear everything! Everyone will harm you! No one is good! Everyone but you is a menace!

Therefore, I buy a lot less candy, because at most my doorbell will ring three times. Even so, I will make sure the electric pumpkin hasn’t picked this year to stop working, and will drag out a long extension cord to operate it. I will have my lights on and will answer my door in my mask, and will give out the good candy. But it got me thinking about how much has changed.

Today, when you want an uncommon book, you comb the online used book outlets for it. And if you forgot its title and author, you do a few searches and find them. In my teens, you combed actual used bookstores for it. If you got absolutely desperate for it, you paid a search service through the nose. I did that once. It worked, but it was a long process.

Today, when you write a college paper, if you wish you can hire it done online, or look at other thoughts online. If you choose to do your own original work, you do it on a computer. In my late teens, you had to mull until you came up with a good thesis for your paper. Then you went to a library to research it, noting reference information. Then you began to type it on an electric typewriter. Often you would retype the paper through three drafts.

Today, when you get pulled over, if you have sense, you behave as if the officer will draw a firearm on you at the first sign that you do not fear him properly. You volunteer nothing. You admit nothing. In my late teens, the officer didn’t treat you like an escaped nun murderer unless you got surly. Honesty and courtesy made a difference.

Today, when you have to meet someone somewhere, you can be in easy touch up to the moment of contact. You can quite literally talk your guests all the way to where they can see you standing on your porch, waving. In my teens, if the person did not show up, all you could do most of the time is wait, wonder, and worry.

Today, public universities consider it their primary duty to ‘build their brand,’ with sports as just part of this ‘brand.’ They have become corporations with partial tax funding. In my teens, public universities’ primary duty was to offer higher education and good football to residents of their states. They would never have admitted that first part, though.

Today, the effort is in the direction of finding ways to make sure people who will vote against one’s side do not vote at all, or will not be allowed. In my teens, the effort was to try and get them to care enough to vote. However, today, a lot of people vote by mail. In my teens, that was called an absentee ballot. For example, if you were at college, and your permanent residence was technically with your parents, you got an absentee ballot. Well, really, you did not. Hardly anyone bothered.

Today you can have, almost immediately, anything you can afford. In my teens, you often had to go find it. Hours on the phone, or driving around. Usually you didn’t find it.

Today, a house with less than three bathrooms is something of a hovel. In my teens, two bathrooms were a bit ostentatious. I wonder what it’s like to grow up never having to hold it in desperation, waiting for a family member to finish on the commode.

Today, the weather forecast for the next month can be accessible from the top of your browser, and it has a moderate chance of being correct. In my teens, the weather forecast for the next day was accessible from the TV set around dinnertime, and you would be lucky if it were correct.

Today, military service is deified, worshipped, sainted, with all uniformed members anointed as automatic heroes, yet we do little tangible for them once their service has wounded them. In my teens, you went in the military if you were an idealist (rare) or saw few better prospects (common), and you were heckled for it. But when you got out, if your service had harmed you, there was a better chance we would help you.

Today, schools’ first priorities are security, avoiding liability, and complying with state-imposed testing standards. In my teens, schools’ first priority was teaching you things, or if you refused, passing you anyway just to be rid of you.

Today, everyone is afraid. The neighborhood is dangerous. The school is dangerous. The food is dangerous. The city is dangerous. The road is dangerous. Other people are dangerous. In my teens, we lived under the fear of a sudden mass nuclear strike in depth that might incinerate all our major cities and destroy society as we knew it. Some of the other dangers were also much greater. And yet we were not so afraid.