Every year I debate my husband on the merits of Halloween. He says it's a destructive excuse to get drunk, and teaches kids to beg. I say it's family fun and brings communities together.
Even supposedly selfish trick-or-treating can be for the good. The owner of a candy company called into the radio show and said he lets kids trade in their less desirable loot, gives them their choice of what he makes, and then donates the take to our soldiers overseas. A neighborhood where I live asks trick-or-treaters to bring canned goods for the local food bank. Myriad parents trailing their eager little ones--including me when my kids were younger--take the opportunity to re-connect with neighbors, building community cohesion.
Those stories about nefarious householders lacing candy with poison and razor blades? Never happened. At least two national articles this season cite the study proving it, arguing for less parental fear and more joy in the holiday.
Maybe in the 1940s things got nasty, with mean teens inventing the "trick or treat" theme, but by the '50s, the term became a single syllable little kids intone with a smile, as willing homeowners offer their individually-wrapped sweets.
Critics say Halloween has pagan beginnings, and the truth is, nobody really knows its origins. Some claim it derived from the Roman festival for Pamona, a goddess of fruits and seeds; others insist it was a different Roman fest, "Feralia." Some trace it to a Celtic holiday, Samhain, that noted the coming of the darker part of the year, and was occasion to honor dead relatives. In the 800s, Pope Boniface IV decreed November 1 as a day to honor martyrs, All Hallows Day, hence, All Hallows Eve.
In any case, there was no Halloween in America until the 1800s, when Irish immigrants started coming en masse, and it wasn't much at that. Celebration only picked up speed in the 20th Century, and then only in its latter half, when boomer kids enjoyed little parties and neighbors started leaving their porch lights on and carving pumpkins into faces.
What would school classrooms look like in the fall without the Halloween decor of jack-o-lanterns and black cats? Even the scarier symbols of skeletons and ghosts don't faze kids--most elementary schools have to warn them not to wear gory costumes, because otherwise fifth-grade boys want to.
Costumes are a creative, positive aspect of the holiday. Making or buying them becomes a parent-and-child bonding activity. It teaches kids that reality may be different from appearances, a subtle but useful lesson. And it gives kids an opportunity to indulge their imaginations, to become characters or change their looks beyond their normal selves.
This year, the top children's costume is--the same as the last six years--princess. Next is Spider-Man, followed by witch (not Christine O'Donnell), pirate, Disney Princess, and "super-hero." Doesn't sound so scary to me.
I had a great time surfing the web to find internet meme costumes. Sad Keano is a tough one to duplicate, unless you're not planning on moving off a bench for the whole evening. The Double Rainbow guy, however, is a possibility (see photo above). My favorite is The Panda (you can't say no to Panda) because it's do-able and the cheese commercials are so hilarious. Apparently there's a list of costumes people least want to see--with Sarah Palin the winner. Personally, I think I'd be most frightened if Nancy Pelosi came to my door seeking a handout.
In any case, it's a beautiful day here in the Northwest. I'm going to go carve our pumpkin, look through our bags of costumes, and put our little packs of m-and-ms out on a tray. If that's not your style, that's just fine--nobody has to celebrate, and any way you choose (or not) to acknowledge Halloween, from church harvest parties to herding the little ones to candy-proffering merchants at the mall, fits into the American tradition. And of course, if you're a real curmudgeon, you can just turn off the porch light and go to bed.