Last night was my first time participating in the Halloween ritual of trick-or-treating. All day, I was bursting with anticipation. I filled big bowls with candy and waited eagerly by the front door, hours before the sun set. I couldn’t wait for the kids to arrive.
But when the doorbell rang, a wave of nervousness overcame me. What am I supposed to say? Do I just hand them candy? Do I let them choose their own candy? Do I have to talk with the parents? How does this whole thing work?
I didn’t celebrate Halloween when I was a kid. In fact, somewhere in my childhood I picked up the notion that October 31st is the devil’s birthday.
My parents never told me that, although their Christian religion does prohibit anything that glorifies witchcraft, most notably Harry Potter and Halloween. Besides, my parents didn’t approve of scary costumes, staying up late, or sugary candy. Three strikes against Halloween.
When I was very young, I remember October 31st was the night we would turn off all the lights in the house and hide out in my parents’ bedroom. I didn’t understand that we were avoiding neighborhood trick-or-treaters. It felt like an adventure.
Then we moved to a rural area, far from roaming bands of candy-collecting kids.
This coincided with my hyper-religious phase, where I took everything literally and got very worked up over the idea of spiritual warfare. I have this one memory, of a stormy Halloween night when I was 11 or 12 years old. I convinced my younger brother it would be a good idea to do “a protest.” We snuck into the garage to look for big pieces of cardboard and wooden sticks.
I don’t remember exactly what we wrote on our signs. But I do remember the two of us put on our boots and jackets and braved the rain and wind. We marched around our house with signs held high, shrilly chanting “Halloween is Satan’s day! We don’t celebrate Halloween!”
Absolutely no one was within earshot. The nearest neighbor was half a mile away. It was pitch black, and if anyone had happened to drive by on the remote country road, they would have seen two small kids stomping in circles, waving signs in the air and screaming something about Satan. They would have to assume they were witness to some creepy occult ritual.
Then Dad came out on the porch and told us to come inside. He was as baffled as he was upset at our antics. My parents must have done some soul-searching that night, because the anti-Halloween rhetoric in our household calmed down dramatically. We were even allowed to read the Harry Potter books. But by then, we were too old for the trick-or-treating.
When I went to college, I was surprised to discover Halloween was still a big deal, although now it revolved around alcohol instead of candy. On October 31st, my friends revealed outlandish and elaborate outfits. I felt like the odd one out, but I tried to shrug it off.
“You have to wear a costume!” my friends protested.
I borrowed my roommate’s ill-fitting pair of overalls. “I’m a farmer,” I announced. Polite nods. Maybe a few eye rolls.
The next year I simply grabbed a checkered flannel and continued my farmer persona. But since I wore a flannel nearly every day, it wasn’t much of a costume.
After college I breathed a sigh of relief that I’d finally outgrown the whole stupid holiday.
Then: last night. My first Halloween as an adult living in the suburbs. And like I said at the beginning of this post, before the kids rang the doorbell I was consumed with worry that I would mess up. Part of me wanted to turn off all the lights and hide in the bedroom.
But I had nothing to fear. The kids were focused on the candy, not on anything I said. “TRICKERTREAT!!!” They melted my heart in their adorable little costumes. I got plenty of practice putting candy in their buckets and pillowcases. From the sidewalk, parents smiled and waved.
I can’t wait for next year! I want to get decorations for the front door. And I’m going to give out candy more generously because we have too much left over.
If Halloween is actually the devil’s birthday, he must hate that we celebrate it by making the children in our neighborhood feel special.