I LOVE Halloween! I think it's just one of the most fun holidays of the year. Sure there's the whole demon and scary angle, but that's not what I love. I love the community, I love the costumes, I love the ability to go door-to-door, I love being able to pretend, and I love that we are all encouraged to face our fears. I think Halloween is a great equalizer. Oh sure if you're rich you can have whatever costume you want, but ratty clothes and thrift store finds are the hallmark of some of the greatest costumes ever. I remember one Halloween reusing a worn out duct taped pair of my Papa's (grandfather) overalls for at least three different costumes, a country girl with mismatched pigtails and brown make-up freckles, a psycho-ax murder with some fake blood and grease, and a redneck (kinda like the country girl minus the cutesy elements and added a trucker hat.)
Unfortunately, among the Christian community, Halloween gets a really bad rap. It's a pagan holiday. It's demon worship. It's satanic. As a result we are encouraged to turn off our porch lights, shunning our neighbors, and instead take our kids to "Harvest Parties" where we play fall games in scary-free zones in the basements of our churches, hiding from the evil outside. Pretending that we are so much better than our neighbors because we don't practice such ridiculousness and we don't stoop to horror, to acknowledging the scary in the world.
Sure if you look back at the history of Halloween, there is the celebration of Samhein. There is the belief that the afterlife/other realm is at it's closest. Even the catholic church acknowledged some of these feelings when it declared November 1 to be All Saints Day, thus giving Halloween it's current name. In the past the holiday was a time to hide from or scare away evil spirits. Trick-or-treating was a time when kids threatened neighbors to give them sweets or they would do property damage or play some other, not so funny trick.
How far the holiday has come as it has grown up and become a more secular, widely practiced phenomenon. Now trick-or-treat is a greeting. It says "Hey neighbor! I'm a kid who lives near here and I need to know you are safe, and for you to see me when you drive your car down the street." It reinforces that "Hey I'm just a kid here and I need to know the adults in my community, and I need them to know I'm here too." You can't buy that kind of safety. The kind where adults (especially where it's starting to get dark before most arrive home from work), know that there are kids on the street, where they live, and roughly what age they are. That they'll be aware that these kids are walking around and playing when they drive home. As it gets colder we are all outside less, but just before it's too cold to hang out outside, Halloween comes along and reminds everyone - Hey there are still kids here!
It also gives the kids a chance to know which houses are kid friendly and have people at home. Meet their neighbors in a kid friendly way. When we go out we try to point out which house is ours. We try to say more than trick-or-treat and thank you. We try to use this little permissible moment to build an acquaintance so that if we have an emergency they have someone they can go to, especially since we don't live near any family.
Then we get to my absolutely favorite aspect of Halloween, the costumes! Especially as adults, there are so few times when it's ok for us to show off our interests, to stand bold in who we are with the aid of a costume. I mean it's just so much easier to strike up a conversation, to break out and be yourself, when you are all dressed up. Maybe that's just me, but I've always found it to be true. When I had a costumer service job kids were always so eager to talk to me when I was dressed up, and parents were more comfortable about me talking to their kids as well. Kids love it too, of course, but even a scary costume can be friendly, because there is an element of silliness to it.
Costumes are fun. You get to try on different personalities. You get to try out different looks. It's a great chance to find yourself, to try things you'd never be brave enough to do in your own persona, in your everyday life. It's freeing, because if it doesn't work, you can always discard it when you discard the character. If it worked in your surroundings you can keep it and add it to yourself, as another bit of you as you interact with others. Kids can do this too. There costumes can be a freeing time as well. I think there is just some intrinsic thing about costumes that let us know it's ok. Ok, to try to be more like our heroes. Ok, to open up to others. It gives us a prop, a conversation piece, a place to start.
There is also the aspect most Halloween activities happening after night. Being not a morning person, this is a boon for me, but there's also the fact that many people are scared of the dark and there is a perception that bad things happen in the dark, even though artificial lights are more to blame. Still it is good to go out after dark. It's good to make fun of the scary things. To laugh at spiders, and skeletons, and death. At any other time these things are too serious, we can't walk next to them and be stronger than them, tougher than them. In "normal" life we have to respect and revere the horrors in the world, but on Halloween, we can laugh at them. Laughing at these things is good. It keeps them from being so scary. It gives us a starting point where we can introduce them to children.
The business community and other organizations have a place as well. Halloween is a universal reach out to children time. It lets them know the community cares that they are there. Too often kids get pushed off into corners, locked behind the fences of the school yard, smuggled away from adult issues. Kept hidden in the back yard, or the house. Too often kids still live a life where they are not seen or heard, and as a result they have no idea how to act or participate in an adult setting. I'm not saying that Halloween fixes this huge cultural issue, but it does see businessmen, neighbors, and our community coming down to their level and sharing a short dialog, even if it is the highly scripted:
"Pick what you like."
If you really want to help, keep the conversation going. Ask about the child's costume, compliment them on their manners, their speech, they're creativity. Halloween allows us to break social norms and build strengths. We can't replace that by hiding in a kid only safety zone in a basement. We are giving up too much by wishing what we have made into the modern Halloween doesn't exist. It's no longer about any religion, it's now about growth, it's about community, it's about knowing your neighbors, and that is something we need to have, as adults and as kids.