Thursday, November 1, 2012


There are certain cultural customs that I've always held a tad bit of disdain trick or treating for Halloween.

When I was a kid we didn't have any neighbors to trick or treat at--living in the middle of a field pretty much limited the door to door knocking options.  So, my mom would drive us from relative's home to relative's home (maybe going to 5 or 6 houses total...which took all night).  There was a decent amount of candy but it wasn't that big of a deal--and was mostly centered on showing relatives our costumes.

When we lived in Maine, during seminary and residency, we actually got a few trick or treaters--I would buy candy and we would gleefully sit outside ready to hand out handfuls.  15 or 20 kids would trickle by over the course of the evening--all in costume, all of whom were at an age to enjoy the excessive sugar consumption but not so old that I wondered where they had parked the car.  It was a fun way to feel like a part of our neighborhood, but I never knew who the kids were.  It certainly didn't feel terribly relational.

Last year we had recently moved to our urban neighborhood and realized the scale of halloween on our block--trick or treaters by the score!  As for our own small family, we trotted our duckling around to some of the neighbors to show him off in his adorable costume.  There was no candy involved and I said "no thank you" to the kind offers of sweets for the mamas.  Then, a bit later in the evening, we began the ritual of passing out candy to the 100 (!) or so trick or treaters who came by.  I didn't mind the marginally costumed teens, but what I couldn't figure out was the number of adults with young infants (well under a year--often under 6 months) who were out collecting candy.  Somewhat appalled, I would hand over the loot as they awkwardly juggled a costumed and bunting clad bundle alongside their bucket.  It was a relatively fun evening, but I felt that I could take it or leave it--my perception of greed and excess definitely colored my understanding of the holiday.

This year, we started preparing our 2.5 year old for Halloween WEEKS in advance.  A sensitive sort with some stranger anxiety, I knew that our son would need to be prepped in order to deal with the concept of children and adults in costumes.  While I knew that I could just keep him in on Halloween I had become aware of the scope of Halloween as the invitations and opportunity to "dress up" began to pile up.  From the GLBT family halloween party, to toddler music class, to playgroup...there were going to be several events we would be participating in (as members of our community) which would involve costumes.

So, two months ago we purchased a couple of "lift the flap" children's books in which a costumed child (or animal) was on the flap and the unmasked child or animal was visible when you lifted the flap.  As Halloween drew nearer I started calling it, "Halloween, the night when we dress up in silly outfits and visit our neighbors".  I wanted to emphasize the relational aspects of the holiday--largely because I'd begun to realize that just because I wasn't too excited about the notion, it is a night that our neighbors and friends get very excited about.  He seemed to embrace the concept but I was still concerned because these lift the flap books and talks about "visiting our neighbors" didn't really offer up the level of macabre that awaited.

Then, it arrived, October 31st--crisp, cool and properly autumnal without being too cold (a seeming rarity this time of year!).  Clad in his minimalist bear costume (I wanted little fuss, and I didn't want to stress our boy with uncomfortable costume bits or run the risk that he would reject anything that was too unusual) we marched down to playgroup (where he enjoyed seeing his friends in their silly outfits) and then we went about our day.  Errands were run, meals were eaten.  Then at 4 in the afternoon, I picked up what appeared to be the last two bags of candy at and headed home with my bear cub.  I grew increasingly excited about visiting--largely because our late talking boyo had largely mastered an understandable "trick or treat" over the course of the day (we won't discuss the distress this late talking has caused his verbose and extroverted mama!).

So, a solid hour before the trick or treating would begin in earnest we headed over to neighbors (we'd asked about coming by early, boyo doesn't nap anymore and I knew that even pushing his bedtime back to 7pm might be a big stretch).  "Duh oh deeett!!!!" he proclaimed at the house next door...and his eyes grew large as he realized that a lollipop had just been popped into his bucket.  "Duh ooh" (thank you) he said at my prompting and on we went.  Next, we visited with the much beloved big girls who live two doors down (7 and 5, they are a sweet duo who are kind and gentle with our boy).  "Duh oh deet"--another lollipop was presented...and fresh baked cookies!!!

Suddenly realizing that these were "his" treats, the boyo handed me a lollipop and looked at me expectantly.  "Yes" I said, "this is Halloween and you get to have special treats"--I handed him the unwrapped sucker and joy exploded across his face.  Blue tongued now, he held hands with the big girls for pictures.

Next, the house across the street where a sometimes babysitter lives.  At 13, he's a sweet boy and is all smiles for our little.  The ritual words were uttered and a mini kit kat bar made it's way into the bucket.  The evening progressed and we went to 6 houses on our street--and at every house smiles greeted us and friends cheered on our little guys words.  Two (!) lollipops and a mini kit kat made their way into his belly and we headed home to hand out our "candy for sharing".  By handfuls he would plop the assorted gummis and sweets into the proffered bags and buckets.  We talked about each costume that we saw, we talked about how some made him nervous and the child wearing the "Scream" mask obligingly lifted it to show a freckled face.  

This is roughly when I realized what we'd done that night...

  • We'd experienced unconditional generosity from neighbors
  • I'd been given the opportunity to say "yes" and give the gift of unexpected permissiveness for an evening
  • my son had learned a bit about having a little but then giving a lot as he handed out "candy for sharing"
  • he had the opportunity to practice what it means to have people understand what you say

and I felt myself get knit more firmly into the fabric of our community

  • "Remember the house we saw with the paper pumpkins in the window, these boys made those"
  • "Remember last year when he wondered into your house to visit when you opened the door?  He was so little then!"
  • "You can go over and say 'boo' to K (our next door neighbor) but don't go any farther, mama will stand right here and watch you"

The assorted ghosties and goblins thronged through the streets and we pushed bedtime back to the late hour of 7:20--yup, we live dangerously in these parts!  And, each hand that was proffered, each bag and pillow case and bucket--I realized that each one held a story alongside the candy.

The teen trying to hold onto childhood.  The adult long waiting for a child to share the night with.  The children with visible special needs who needed to be helped in the choosing of a sweet or who stopped to feel the mums at the door, drawn in by the sensory wonder of the clumps of yellow flowers--children and adults who were enjoying participating in something that everyone else does too.  The toddlers up late, learning to trust that good things await.

I get it now...Halloween is pretty spectacular.

He was so little for his first Halloween!  


Anonymous said...

I love this post. It's everything I want to say but couldn't put as eloquently. Thank you.

Joy said...

You are more than welcome. SAHM clergy folk have lots of pent up sermon writing energy ;)