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Opinion

Halloween goes beyond costume, candy

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October 30, 2008

I remember one dark and surreal night 17 years ago. I had no idea where I was. I was cold and confused and had only my little brother beside me, and even he was difficult to focus on through the blanket of snow that was falling. It was hard to imagine that we would ever make it home again, and maybe I didn’t want to.

We were traveling slowly through a very strange world, a maze of dim and empty streets, blacked out and whited out at the same time. One of our parents was pulling us along in a sled, but I forgot which. Every minute or so we ventured over to whatever houses we could see, holding our buckets out like beggars. We ran back to the sled just as quickly, and the journey went on. The air was so frigid that parts of our plastic costumes were cracking and falling off. Pieces of ourselves we didn’t need anymore, left behind on the endless roads and buried in seconds.

It was one of the best nights of my life.

Today people call it the Halloween Blizzard of 1991. What stood out for me was not the blizzard, but the Halloween. It was always my favorite holiday. The idea of getting out of myself, and being something other than what I was, fascinated me as a child. A Ninja Turtle, a caveman, a devil…anything that was different. My normal life felt like a prison sometimes, and Oct. 31 was one of those rare days when I could escape.

My town actually looked interesting then. Houses were decked out with spider webs, grinning Jack-o-lanterns, cackling skeletons and witches that had just smashed into the doors. I loved it all-dressing up, pretending, getting scared, shouting “trick or treat.” It was a night when I could stay up late and go wherever I felt like going. Strangers actually welcomed me, complimented me. And, of course, there was free candy everywhere. My favorite kind was Baby Ruth. In a way, it fit. On nights like that, I didn’t want to grow up.

The candy was all some kids seemed to care about. For me it was mostly an afterthought, an excuse to be out there. But a rewarding afterthought, too, when the evening was finally over and I had to go home and be myself again. That was what Halloween meant to me. Not a chance to do stupid stuff like throw toilet paper on trees or egg houses or steal little kids’ trick-or-treat bags or smash pumpkins that families just like mine spent hours carving…but a chance to feel free.

Ironically, as I’ve become a happier and healthier person, my Halloweens have become less special. I trick-or-treated for the last time in 2000, and I’ve steadily lost the spirit ever since. I don’t go to costume parties or haunted houses much anymore. This year, I’m more likely to celebrate by languishing in my room at home with some really good death metal, like Dead Congregation or Grave.

As a matter of fact, that’s what I’m doing as I write this. The music is a crushing wall of noise, overwhelming and soothing at the same time. Still, there is still that part of me that wants to find a costume and a pillowcase, run outside and stalk the streets for candy and fulfillment once again…but I have grown up, against my own wishes. And I guess part of growing up is losing that genuine, wide-eyed excitement you once had for days like Halloween. Maybe that’s just the way it is.

But it’s a shame.