A Contrary Opinion
I hate Halloween. I hate a lot of things that make people happy: fairs, clowns, circuses, carnivals, zoos. They all shout excess and madness, a human striving to control the impossible— the sky, the upside down, the psyche, the wild. Death. Funnel cakes aside.
I enjoyed those things as a child. But they stank of something slightly off, even to my child’s nose. The cheer was forced, the animals dead-eyed. Toilet paper streamers and razor bladed apples. Old clowns reeling in playgrounds, like drunk Santas.
Perhaps I’m overthinking.
The only Halloween costume I clearly remember wearing was the pioneer girl, handmade by a forgotten relative, complete with a calico bonnet and a lace-edged apron. Why this is my fondest Halloween memory is one for the head doctors; Little House on the Prairie is decidedly not an aspirational look. I don’t know what happened to that outfit. There must be a place where Halloween costumes go to die. It must be a very sad place. The island of misfits.
Halloween candy is a racket. The market can’t resist a flock of ready-made seasonal consumers, and so we have holiday-themed bite-sized morsels that you can conveniently purchase with your carving kit and your spooktacular decor. How many of us buy great heaving bags of individually wrapped sugar rushes knowing we will furtively gobble them alone in the dark November kitchen? Someone has to eat it. Candy corn should not be a thing. Eat the orange candles on the discount rack the day after. It’s the same.
An early Halloween for one of my kids fell in the wake of a pulpotomy. For the uninitiated, that’s a baby root canal. Baby Ruth is not indicated.
Candy is Halloween’s point, to a child’s mind; the collection and ingestion of as much mass-produced, corn syrup crammed, chemically colored confections as possible. I spent a lifetime tending their health, teaching them to brush, feeding them the good stuff, the real stuff, only to have it blown to hell in one evening of forced acquisition. It’s the child’s version of a stick-up — TRICK or TREAT — gimme the goods or I go mad up on your porch.
I have a friend, an artist, who takes raucous glee in the rituals of Halloween. Once, he took our kids out in a white van for a commando style trick-or-treat stick-up. Cruising the best streets — the streets with pumpkins on porches, skeletons in chairs, and fake cobwebs in bushes — he would pull to the curb, throw open the van doors and yell GO!GO!GO! My angels charged across clipped lawns, past jack-o-lanterns and weaker children, like tiny beasts bent on one thing — MORE. The most, the one haul to rule them all.
I stayed home and made soup, praying that the scars weren’t too deep.
One year, on Hallow’s Eve, I made a Brazilian black bean soup that probably wasn’t Brazilian at all, but that’s what the recipe said. It was elaborate and hearty and, with a homemade bread, was intended to warm the bellies of the beasts after a hard night of search and destroy. When I put the soup in the blender, after hours of precious preparation, the lid flew off dramatically and spewed partially puréed black bean soup all over my walls, my ceiling, and me. It was as if the devil himself had projectile vomited in my kitchen. My family found me in a state of dramatic disarray, no doubt cursing Halloween.
I think the dead must hate Halloween. All the costumed people moaning around the graveyards, not a flower or a tear, just a lot of ghoulish lurching about. Let the dead be. And what’s with the skeletons? I keep one of those under my skin and I try very hard not to think about it.
Halloween is dread to the parent who loathes shopping and can’t sew. My most ambitious sewing project was a clown costume made for a child’s Halloween before my inner cynic won. A pattern, a tiered collar, rickrack, elastic, hook-and-eye — it took months and it sent me to a bad and crazy place. Every child wore it, though, and it still hangs in a closet somewhere in my house. I’m a little proud of it. I hate clowns.
Each of my kids embraced Halloween in a signature ravenous way. The oldest was meticulous in his costume design — ripping, painting, and building in pursuit of frightful disguise. The second son was very serious about his evolving Ninja persona. My third son was initially dumbfounded by the ritual. Naked was his natural state, naked outdoors preferable. Naked in a tree, optimal. We called him Mowgli. Might naked with a cape work? Can a large stick brandished with intensity constitute the entirety of one’s costume? My daughter, the baby, swung from princess to punk, punctuated by witches, fairies, and zombies. Whatever it took to get the candy.
A writer friend once told me, “Halloween is an excuse for young girls to get in touch with their inner tarts.” He loves Halloween.
Halloween is a festival of mixed messages, a bunch of lies to hoodwink the young. Don’t take candy from strangers — unless you wear a costume, have a bag, and go directly to their door. Don’t bother the neighbors, except today when you can take their candy. But not too much. Dress like a civilized person, except today when you can dress like an intergalactic pirate with a weapon and you can have candy.
My kids remember houses with the rule no costume, no candy. My husband grew up in Manhattan and remembers grown men banging on the apartment door, no costume, basso profundo trick-or-treat. They got candy. The rules are malleable.
Pumpkins are pretty for a minute but then they fall into themselves like science projects, dark festering wounds on the porch. Jack-o-lanterns send you to the floor or the emergency room. Or both.
Costumes are for theater folk and people who very much want to be looked at. I like to look but don’t look at me. The best adult costume I’ve been able to manage is a mask. Me in a mask. Anonymity is delicious.
I once went to a Halloween party dressed like my best grown-up party self and left with a husband. It’s a good, long story, but maybe best told like that.
My daughter, the baby, just called from her dorm in a distant city to ask what should I wear? Black and a mask, angel. I’m done.
Happy Halloween. Save the dark chocolate for me. I’m going to make soup.