I was going to be an intrepid re porter for this column. I
was going to suit up, put the baby in the back carrier, and
head out to “Malloween” at Crossgates Mall to observe the
flavor of Halloween at America’s new town square. Unfortunately,
the festivities didn’t really get underway until the part
of the afternoon when kids would start trickling by my house.
I haven’t been home for the past few Halloweens, and faced
with the choice, I wasn’t quite up to passing up on the best
part of the season yet again.
I went door to door a lot as a child—I sold Girl Scout cookies,
carried petitions for this and that, sold homemade cookies
to raise money for the “nature club” I started that met in
the space under our front porch, and trick-or-treated. It
wasn’t the chummiest of neighborhoods in general, but I could
still point out to you which houses had adults who came to
the door in costume, which had scary dogs, and which had people
who always bought cookies. One of the things I have enjoyed
about becoming an adult is the chance to be on the other side
of the door when the kids come calling.
So I suited up my daughter in her little lion costume and
headed out to the porch with my bowl (soup pot, really) of
candy and the jack-o-lantern. The kids who passed me on their
way home from school, so often quarreling, were in a good
mood. Many of them stopped to appreciate the baby, or compliment
my mother-in-law’s chicken hat with the wings that flap. I
saw costumed cyclists go by, and happily handed out candy
to pink poodles, Jack Sparrows, wizards, ghouls, and teenagers
dressed as greedy teenagers. (Such is the way.) I saw across
the street what appeared to be a couple in their 40s going
trick-or- treating together, in all seriousness, pillowcases
at the ready. I felt a kinship I never had before with the
people across the street and several houses down who were
also out on their porches, watching it all go by.
I was sad to go in when the baby needed a nap.
It wasn’t earth-shattering. I might have seen a larger number
of costumes in better light at the mall and wouldn’t have
spent so much on candy.
In fact, there’s nothing really wrong with the idea of Malloween.
People working crappy retail jobs should get to see cute kids
in costume too.
But it bugs me because not for what it is, but for the fact
that it exists largely because many parents feel they need
a “safer” alternative to the traditional neighborhood route.
This is very sad. Halloween is in part the holiday that’s
about facing our fears of the dark, of winter, of death. And,
at least how we celebrate it in this country, it’s a neighborhood
holiday. To turn to the sanitized and controlled environment
of the mall is to neuter Halloween’s central secular ritual
in the name of irrational fears. Trick-or-treating migrates
to malls and before sundown. Kids get driven on their candy-gathering
rounds. Safety warnings populate the airwaves.
Why? Because “the streets” are dangerous. Because strangers,
even (or perhaps especially) the ones living on our block,
are dangerous. Because teenagers, especially when allowed
to put on masks and absorb a spirit of mischief, are terrifying.
Because people not only still believe that strangers regularly
poison and/or put razors in Halloween treats, but somehow
think that the above measures protect from that. That treats
given in daylight are safer. That Freddie and Jason and the
guy from Halloween only strike at night.
For too many people, instead of a chance to face their fears,
Halloween instead seems to magnify them.
For the record, according to citation-full Urban Legends reference
site Snopes, there have been no random poisonings of
Halloween candy—although some people have tried to use the
legend as cover, after the fact poisoning the candy of kids
who died by other means. And of the small number of needles
and such that have shown up in apples and candy bars, nearly
all have been traced to pranks by kids themselves, copycatting
the existing rumor or trying to scare a sibling.
And yet, giving out apples now would be tantamount to labeling
oneself a depraved child molester. We are so easily scared.
Leaving the contents of the treats aside, it really is bizarre
to fear going out after dark on Halloween of all nights. It
should be the safest night of the year to be out and about
in the evening. Not only are there more people on the street
than usual, but far more of the people at home are keeping
an eye out their windows and periodically coming to the door.
It’s like a neighborhood-watch patrol and a National Night
Out and a block party, all rolled into one, plus costumes
What’s not to like?