Proposal: International Fun Costume and Candy Day
Confession: I like Halloween.
But I feel like I’m not allowed to say that. Halloween has pagan roots and glorifies violence and gore and has turned into an excuse for women to dress provocatively, men to leer, and children to become part of consumer culture as they whine for overpriced licensed-character costumes. I’m not in favor of any of that.
What I like about Halloween—and I really, really like it—is the neighborly feeling of everyone getting together to squeal over each other’s children and eat treats. No matter your faith (or non-faith, as the case may be) you can be happy to see children and families having fun together.
This morning I sat on a folding chair in my son’s school gymnasium and watched the annual Halloween costume parade. Technically, I was there to see my own kid, who looked like a slightly hyperactive Harry Potter on his way to the Quidditch pitch, but there were about 200 other children who paraded by me. They were also darling, and applauding children and admiring parents’ costuming handiwork was a great way to spend the morning. It wasn’t competitive, it was just fun.
There’s an early-intervention preschool at my son’s school for young children with special needs. Of course the parents in attendance wanted to make every child feel acknowledged and special, but the cheering and clapping was involuntary when those children appeared. They were obviously enjoying their outfits; it was positively tender to see everyone so genuinely enthusiastic.
Some of my friends don’t approve of sugary treats, and I feel the same way most days of the year. One day of the year (OK, three, if you count Christmas and Easter. . . four if you count New Year’s. . . fine, FIVE if you’re going to look over my shoulder and see how indulged my boys are during Girl Scout Cookie season) I think the benefits of enjoying a few sweet yummies together outweigh the risks of tooth decay, obesity and diabetes.
My grandmother loves Halloween and dresses up every year. For many years she was known in her neighborhood as “The Popcorn Lady,” since her specialty is homemade candied popcorn. Even though homemade treats have mostly fallen out of favor, she still fills bags of candy and small prizes for children who trick-or-treat at her house. She exclaims over every one as if they were all her own grandchildren, and loves the steady stream of company. There aren’t many holidays that are as all-inclusive and multi-generational as Halloween.
I also like costumes. For my kids, my husband, myself, costumes are fun. It’s a bonding thing, and an opportunity to talk about characters we admire and what about them we’d like to make part of our own, real-life character.
Every year, my husband’s work sponsors a family Halloween party and employee costume contest. There are cash prizes, and everyone gets into it. My husband has won it three different years with various goofy and creative costumes and I feel nearly as proud of his costume contest victories as I do of his professional accomplishments. We are raising three sons in a world that has very narrow ideas of what is acceptable fun for boys. I can rant forever about how girls and boys can choose dolls or cars or costumes or soccer or dancing or whatever and classy gentlemen are devoted dads, but all my talking doesn’t make the point the way my husband does when he says, “Love? Can you help me get my hair just right for my costume? Here’s my vision. . .”
What I really wish is that Halloween could have a makeover. We’d call it something different, just to shed the dark side and let it be what it already is, at its best: a wholesome community event. Could we call it International Fun Costume and Candy Day? Everyone could agree upon certain rules for costumes, such as: Nothing Mean, Gross or Disrespectful. Those are the rules in my house, and they don’t seem to ruin anyone’s good time.
Yeah, I know establishing such rules would be seen as Halloween censorship and would never work, but we’re not talking about Halloween, we’re talking about International Fun Costume and Candy Day in my personal Utopia. I can dream.
I know, too, that Halloween and even International Fun Costume and Candy Day are rich people’s holidays. Parents who are worried about putting food on the table (assuming there is a table) and winter coats around their babies cannot worry about such low-priority expenses as novelty clothing for one day. I especially wish that were different. I definitely do my share of unnecessary spending, but I believe it is important to put time and money towards causes that matter all year long. Simple, mindful celebrations leave more resources for helping those who really need it.
This is the first year I’ve had to explain very clearly why, even though we enjoy costumes and the community camaraderie of Halloween, we do not participate in gore. Is there anything more ironic than healthy, well-fed people dressing up like they are injured or dying when so many people actually are? To me, that’s not a costume idea, that’s poor taste. I know, I’m pretty uptight about my fun.
My children see lots of people enjoy scariness on Halloween, and that’s fine for them but not for us, I’ve told them. It can remind us that all that sadness and scariness is an unhappy misunderstanding, a reminder that those ideas are just pretend. As part of our faith, we don’t believe death is a gory, tortuous end. We don’t see resurrection as a bleeding zombie apocalypse, either.
It’s going to be a wonderful day of happy reunions and family togetherness, a little like the best moments of our Halloween celebration.