‘Tis the season for judgment. There’s an article out now demanding that kids need to be young, adorable, and in costume to enjoy Halloween. I most fervently disagree.
I used to think like that lady does. One year, I even had a sign outside my door that read “No costume, No creativity, No candy.” My thought was that I went through the effort of decorating my house (with a giant fake spiderweb dangling baby dolls) and I stood outside in full costume, and that those participating are implicitly agreeing to the terms of Halloween etiquette—that if you want to go house-to-house getting candy, you do so in disguise. But here’s the thing: I didn’t turn kids away; I challenged them to be creative. One kid said he was a spy going undercover as a high school kid. Another named a celebrity that wore everyday clothes onstage. And for those who couldn’t come up with something on the fly, I had a small basket with those cheap plastic glasses you can pick up at the dollar store while you’re out and about buying Halloween candy. Still, I’m ashamed that I even did that. I’d like to think I’ve grown since then.
I love Halloween. As a writer, I love a day that wholeheartedly embraces creativity and imagination. We’ve since moved from the street where for two solid hours, kids young and old wander through a creepy wonderland with a musical soundtrack streaming loudly enough to be heard throughout the entire block. (The year Michael Jackson died, they played “Thriller” on repeat for the entire time.) When neighbors move onto the block, they are warned about Halloween because, these days, the visitors number over 1,000. It really is a spectacular sight. It is, in a word, magical.
These thousand visitors don’t just walk over from neighboring streets. We get vans full of kids who may not feel safe trick-or-treating in their own neighborhoods, or whose streets don’t have sidewalks or who live on main streets. Regardless of the reason, they are welcomed in my neighborhood, which is one of the reasons I love where I live. Because we can provide one night where kids of all ages can enjoy being kids, can revel in the wonder of a world escaping reality, can soak up the goodwill of folks sharing a treat not because they expect payment in the form of suitable, appropriate costumes, but because Halloween is all about sharing your love of the imaginary. It’s about preserving innocence and for just one night, not worrying about homework and chores and eating your veggies.
Halloween is about being scared in a safe space. There’s plenty in the real world for kids to be stressed about, so much responsibility we hoist upon their shoulders. Whether they’re concerned about their safety, dealing with the social strains of navigating adolescent relationships, managing after-school activities and jobs alongside academics, or stressed about reaching the requisite achievements to get into a good college, teens have it tough. So if they want to take a night off to enjoy one of their innocent pleasures from their not-so-distant carefree days, so be it. And if that decision is made at the last minute, or their friends convince them to put away their books for one night and take a break for just a little while, then isn’t it our job as adults to reassure them that they made the right choice?
If we’re worried about offending teens to the point of being egged, perhaps the problem isn’t the teens but in how we interact with them. I don’t know the story of every kid who comes to my door for a smile and a piece of candy, but I sure know my role in theirs.
Here’s a thought: teens are on the brink of adulthood, and each encounter with an adult shapes what they believe being a grownup is all about. If I fill them with grace, courtesy, encouragement, and acceptance, then I know it’s in them to carry forward. And if all it takes me is a smile and a piece of candy, what’s the harm?