That was one of my favorite questions growing up. Sometimes it was a conversation with the kids at school. Other times it was a question from my mother, wanting to figure out if she could get away with buying a boxed costume (the kind with the full-face hard plastic mask held on with a rubber band) or if I’d be begging her to sew something for me.
The question wasn’t “what kind of a costume do you want?” or “what do you want to dress up as?” It was “what do you want to be?” I was a thoroughly rational kid in a thoroughly Christian environment, but even I could see there was magic in Halloween. It was the one time of year when I could be anything I could imagine, including things my thoroughly rational self was sure couldn’t exist.
I lived in a rather rural area – on Halloween we’d go to my cousin’s house in town and I’d follow him around the block. When someone would ask about the unfamiliar kid, he’d say “this is my cousin John – he doesn’t have a neighborhood.” I had a great candy carrier – a coffee can with a rope for a handle. Someone (probably my mother) painted it black and decorated it with ghosts and pumpkins.
I liked the candy – I still do (a little too much). But what made Halloween so much fun was walking around, house to house, in the dark, dressed up like a vampire or a ghost or a vampire or, well, a vampire (sensing a theme here?). For one evening, I could be and do something very different from my usual life.
Even in this thoroughly Christian environment, there was no religious backlash against Halloween. Mainly it was fun for the kids. Although I can’t remember anyone ever waxing philosophical about Halloween, I think at some level most people understood the need for occasional social inversion and the need to explore the things that scare us. It saddens me to see Halloween cut back because of religious killjoys or paranoid parents.
Cathy and I don’t have children, but on Halloween night we’ll have our porch light on and the candy bowl ready. Most years I’ll carve a pumpkin, and if the weather is nice I’ll open a window and play scary music. It’s the least I can do to keep a tradition alive that meant so much to me as a kid.
In recent years Halloween has become more “adult” – in both senses of the term. We may not be kids anymore, but we still need a chance to be something different and a chance to play. I still love Halloween, and although I continue to turn down invitations from my cosplaying friends, I did dress for the True Blood party at Between the Worlds last year. As for the other meaning of “adult,” if Halloween is the only time you feel comfortable exploring certain sides of your sexuality, by all means indulge.
But please, in the name of Artemis, don’t tart up your tweens. They’ll have plenty of time to explore their sexuality later on – and they will, whether you want them to or not. Hopefully you’ll have taught them to do so responsibly and respectfully, in a shame-free and positive body image way. Let Halloween be a time of simple fun, of exploring the things that scare us, and of being someone or something else for a night.
As for me, I’ll be giving out candy, then waiting up for the Great Pumpkin. There’s a pumpkin patch nearby I hear is very sincere.
This post, as I hope is clear by now, is about the secular holiday of Halloween. I’ll have something to say about the Pagan holy day of Samhain next week.