We had 145 trick-or-treaters at our house, towards the low end of what is a typical Halloween on our street. (I'm already bracing for next year, when Halloween falls on a Friday!) In our part of town, at least, it is a major civic festival. And why not? Our street is well-lit, there are sidewalks on both sides of the street, and homeowners are both into the spirit of the thing and financially able to pop for piles and piles of candy. For one fall night, at least, the dark street is full of people, making the walk both safe and festive.
There were some memorable costumes. Any number of children, mostly boys I'm guessing, were dressed as Star Wars characters with glowing red eyes (that were, alas, hard for some of them to see through). A little girl and her brother came as Fern and Wilbur from Charlotte's Web. There were a couple box-like characters from the game Minecraft, which we recognized thanks to having teenage game players among us. The excitement was contagious, and I didn't mind contributing a little--well, a lot of--candy to fuel the celebration.
How did our block come by all those children? It is 2013, after all, not 1953. Quite obviously people come from elsewhere to trick-or-treat here. You can tell because they come in cars. That's fine with me, because not every neighborhood is as walkable or as welcoming as ours. Most park and walk, joining in the hubbub, but some drive from house to house, which misses the point by becoming purely a candy-amassing exercise. Join the group, I say!
Occasionally, very rarely really, a parent would ask for candy. Well, all right, I'm not judging. And there were older children who seemed too old for trick-or-treating but were just scoring candy. There were a couple guys who looked about 20 who didn't even dress up. I am not judging, I am not judging. I am, frankly, enjoying myself too much at this point to spend psychic energy on disapproval. So I am not judging. But, really, we should find you some other way to participate.
I saw no evidence of vandalism in our neighborhood, except that our next-door neighbor's sign promoting the public library book sale was ripped down. Even that could have been someone stumbling over it in the dark.
So, hooray for Halloween! And, now that it's the morning after, and I've picked about a dozen candy wrappers off the sidewalk, I have some newfound psychic energy that I can spend on disapproval. I disapprove of Doing Halloween Wrong. That mainly means detracting from the civic nature of the festivities.
My neighbor Lyz Lenz posted earlier this week about "Booing." Booing is where someone leaves an anonymous May basket-like package of Halloween goodies on your doorstep, with the instruction that you are to do the same for two other people. This seems on its face like a way to spread joy; I know some people are into this sort of thing, and if it amuses them they should do it, but don't inflict it on other people. Speaking personally, Christmas and birthdays and Valentine's Day are anxiety-producing enough without adding another shopping festival. Halloween can be for walking the block with your neighbors and their children... or, as Lyz says, "Devil worship and candy." Let that be enough.
More troubling are reports that Halloween is moving into the private realm. A recent post on the Christian Century blog expresses regret over the emergence of "trunk-and-treat," in which the Halloween traditions are moved part and parcel to church parking lots. The writer, Debra Dean Murphy, says:
I don’t want to get too heavy-handed with the theological significance of these rituals but there is something to the idea that we open our door to strangers on a dark, autumn night, a grinning lantern on the porch to light their way. It’s a small gesture of hospitality, a willingness to want to know our neighbors. (Of course it’s also about the candy).There is room in our world for both private and public spheres, and in fact there need to be both. Whatever security we get in retreating to an enclave is counter-balanced by the loss of community in shared public space.
A Massachusetts correspondent reports all but ten of the children in his neighborhood went to stores instead of door-to-door. Same logic applies, although my first thought was, "You have 'shops right around the corner?' That's mighty cool!"