I miss Halloween.
Real Halloween, I mean. The kind of Halloween where costumes were thrown together with whatever happened to be lying around, and the kids were perfectly happy as long as they got their candy. The kind of Halloween where decorating meant plunking a clumsily carved jack-o-lantern out on the front porch and sticking a candle in it. The kind of Halloween where schools didn’t have to ban costumes that involved realistic-looking weapons, because no one could imagine a real weapon showing up at a school.
Those Halloweens have gone to the grave now, replaced by the Halloween from hell — thematically appropriate, I guess, but a total massacre of what once was a charming little holiday. Instead of the old-fashioned Halloween night, we now have an entire Halloween season, complete with overpriced “pumpkin patches” and endless rounds of costume contests. And, of course, the inflatable yard ornaments. It’s not a holiday if it doesn’t have inflatable yard ornaments.
Then there’s the candy. I personally have consumed my weight in “fun-size” Crunch bars in the past few weeks, and “fun-size” is not how I would describe the results. True, I could ignore the huge stashes of sweets that my husband buys every year in early October in anticipation of the worldwide Halloween candy shortage that never happens. But if there’s one thing this holiday won’t let you forget, it’s death. And when the Grim Reaper comes calling, I will at least have the comfort of knowing that I never passed up an opportunity for chocolate.
Even the Grim Reaper, though, knows better than to mess with Halloween. Various alarmist religious sects have tried and failed to kill the holiday, warning of dire threat to our souls, yet it lives on, mostly because there’s a profit motive. Capitalism isn’t dead — it’s just dressed that way, making a mint off the zombie craze.
Of all the things I miss about the real Halloween, the one I miss most is the innocence. Sure, back in the 1970s we all told stories about razor blades hidden in apples, but deep down, we knew those stories were nonsense. Even an 8-year-old could tell you that it’s impossible to get a razor blade into an apple without tearing it to shreds. That slicing-and-gluing thing doesn’t work, either. I know, because I am a former 8-year-old.
Today the innocence is gone. Apparently, skeptical 8-year-olds are gone, too. Or at the very least, they’re unable to convince their parents that trick-or-treating in a wealthy suburban county is safe. How else to explain the explosion of trick-or-treat “events” at shopping malls, churches and city parks over the years? Johnson County has plenty of them, always marketed as “safe” alternatives to — to what? The mean cul-de-sacs of suburbia?
While some parents are leaving their neighborhoods to haul their kids to these events, others are more than happy to go door-to-door in those same neighborhoods — and to drive some distance to get there. I live about a mile from State Line Road, and every Halloween, old and often battered-looking cars with Missouri plates bring eager kids to our neighborhood for trick-or-treating. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the parents consider my neighborhood safer than their own. I wish I could tell at a glance which kids these are when they ring my doorbell; I’d give them extra candy, just because.
Scenes like that make me think that the scariest thing about modern-day Halloween isn’t the tacky costumes or the commercialism. It’s the way the holiday shines a painful light our suburbia-skewed worldviews. Seeing families coming to my neighborhood simply because it’s safe helps me put things into perspective. That’s a skill a lot of us need, especially in this final week before the election, when we can log on to any social media site (another privilege we take for granted) and watch people turn on each other like that demon-possessed girl in “The Exorcist.”
Perspective is vital. But like Halloween, it has become a ghost of its former self.
Sarah Smith Nessel, a 913 freelance columnist, writes The Bubble each week.