It was Friday night, 6 o’clock, and I was cowering in my darkened living room, hiding from trick-or-treaters. Our town traditionally holds trick-or-treat night the Friday preceding Halloween, and this year, I decided to stick to my guns and refuse to hand out candy.
It’s not that I’m a Scrooge, exactly. True, I dislike spending upwards of $30 every year on candy as some sort of sugar-filled insurance rider against egging. Also, it’s a pain to spend three hours answering the door, holding back the dog while I dispense the goods to children I’ve never met. And, yes, I’m tired of handing out sweets to pint-sized hooker look-alikes and 7-year-old bloody skeleton demons.
But my Scrooge-ish attitude towards the haunted holiday began way before I was responsible for handing out the treats. Even as a child, I didn’t particularly like Halloween. My costumes were never as perfect as I wanted them to be — my hand-me-down princess lost a lot of her beauty when I was forced to wear the pink and gold costume over my bright teal parka, in defense against the icy, rainy winds that buffeted us as we gathered our loot. We often tromped around in the dark, freezing cold in the effort to gather just one more handful of Tootsie Rolls before bedtime — a concept that seemed pointless to me, as we had a well-stocked pantry at home. I didn’t need the candy, and neither did my friends in their massive houses with in-ground pools and parents who worked in high-paying government positions. I quit trick-or-treating after fifth grade, when one of the boys in my class was arrested for stabbing another boy over a pillowcase of begged snacks.
My favorite Halloween movie of all time is “Hocus Pocus,” a 1993 Disney flick featuring Bette Midler. I didn’t love it for the plot, or the musical numbers; I loved it because it portrayed a Halloween in Salem, MA, where kids trick-or-treated along brightly-leafed boulevards, well before sunset. As I remember it, the kids’ costumes were all wholesomely homemade-looking: Bed-sheet ghosts cavorted with adorable cowboys and innocent fairies in ballet slippers. This was before the days of the Disney Princess-in-a-Bag, so there were no Cindrellas or Jasmines in Disney trademarked costuming combing the set in search of candy. In the movie, all the children seemed to know the adults who lived in the homes on the street where they collected their candy. They rang the bell of the postmistress or their school teacher, and were greeted by name and given compliments on their costumes.
Never mind that the movie was completely fictional (kids are more likely to trick-or-treat in the snow in Massachusetts than down orange-and-gold lined avenues); I liked the concept that Halloween, at least for the children, was a pleasant holiday about dressing up in adorable costumes and going door-to-door talking to your neighbors.
That portrayal of Halloween may have been fictional, but it’s a lot easier to swallow than the reality that we experience here. Last year, I took my children out trick-or-treating in the rain. Tom, then 3, was dressed as a pumpkin, and his little brother Seth, then 1, was a Sorcerer’s Apprentice-type wizard. While out we met three tiny Hannah Montana’s in halter tops and high heels, and several boys in costumes so scary my kids had nightmares. We walked past houses with decorations ranging from cute, inflatable pumpkins, to one house where the homeowner had boarded over all the windows and placed fake hands reaching out. That house also featured a cage, hanging from a tree in the front yard, containing a human skeleton.
So, I’m sorry, Halloween, you’ve gone too far. I’m keeping my candy to myself.