I do not like to be scared, but I do love outrageous costumes. This makes Halloween a complicated holiday for me.
I grew up in a conservative Christian home where the most annoying affronts to our faith were the false existence of Santa Clause and Satan’s late-October birthday. Like most pastors’ kids, I wasn’t allowed to go trick or treating or participate in class parties with witch-on-broom décor. In fact, I have a distinct memory from the third grade of my teacher crouching down to ask, “Honey, I know you don’t celebrate Halloween, but are you going to be able to participate in Valentine’s Day?” I replied that I thought Jesus was on board with love, but just to be sure I would ask my parents.
Truly, I don’t feel like I missed out on anything. Instead of trick or treating, my parents took us to fall festivals in church gymnasiums. These events not only provided candy, but a well-stocked cakewalk, so in addition to boxes of Nerds I also annually brought home no fewer than two-dozen cupcakes or at the very least a multi-layer sheet cake.
At the church festivals my siblings and I, along with the other church kids, dressed up as characters from the bible so that we could reuse our costumes from the Christmas pageant and also so that we would not be accidentally confused as worldly.
For the boys, the biblical costume choices were virtually endless. You could be David the shirtless lion-slaying shepherd (though I’m not sure why David was always shirtless), the three regal wise men (which required willingness to wear parents’ bathrobes), Father Abraham (occasionally confused as a garden gnome), Jacob with his multi-colored coat (or “young Elton John”), and Lazarus, the church-friendly zombie.
But the girls only had two options: The Virgin Mary and Queen Esther. The field was basically split between girls in princess costumes and girls in head coverings carrying baby dolls. Later in the evening, parents could be seen carrying around bags candy, trays of cupcakes, and the occasional baby Jesus tucked beneath one arm.
More androgynous costume options included arc-bound animal pairings or barnyard animals decorating the nativity. One implied proximity to Jesus and one exemplified the end of the world, but as kids we didn’t overthink such things.
This year was the first time I had a child participating in Halloween. I mean, Molly was alive last year, but really we just walked around our downtown neighborhood holding her and wondering if there were other Halloween chores required of us besides posting the obligatory costume picture to Instagram.
So this year was the first year we actually felt invested. Mike and I walked Molly around our suburban neighborhood and said “trick or treat” on her behalf since she experienced a little stage fright when escorted her to strange homes cloaked in cobwebs and lined with pumpkins internally on fire.
Obviously we avoided all the houses that had floodlights, rave lights, smoke machines, or anything hanging from the rafters, not so much for Molly’s sake but for mine. I hate scary things. I can’t even watch dramatic TV shows before bed because the background suspense track –the one that plays ambient tones in minor keys— it gets stuck in my head and for the rest of the evening I walk around the house feeling as though I’m about to make a terrible discovery.
I like the deeply sanitized version of Halloween, which is really to say that I like 30 minutes of a cutesy costume parade followed by an early bedtime and ten days of rigorous candy consumption.
This is essentially the summary of this year’s Halloween experience
It was 80 degrees outside and Molly’s costume was completely comprised of fleece, so she spent the better part of the evening attempting to change her costume from monkey to “naked pedestrian.” By seven o’clock she was asleep, so Mike passed out candy solo as a grown man dressed in an unnatural amount of yellow. “Are you supposed to be the sun?” children asked.
“Yes,” I told them.
We sat in the driveway with our neighbors and passed out candy and pretended to know exactly which character each little girl was that came dressed in a combination of butterfly wings, ballet slippers, and cat face paint.
To all the babies that came as lions or tigers or bear, I gave fistfuls of candy. To the adolescents that wore no costumes, I gave condescending looks. And when I saw a werewolf or grim reaper approaching, I delegated the candy bucket and went inside “to check on Molly.”
Halloween is so weird. There are parts of it that are so fun and silly, an exaggerated form of play. It is a rare instance where neighbors all come out of their houses and grown men wear superhero costumes allegedly “for the children.” But there is also a sinister side that makes me a little nervous, a side highlighting a dark power at play that I don’t believe to be imaginary. So what does one do with such a holiday?
I don’t know.
But I think it’s okay to start by putting your kid in a monkey costume and praying it returns a generous harvest of Kit Kats. I think you can use Halloween as an opportunity to connect with the neighbors, to linger in your driveway, and smile at strangers. And really it’s ideal if your husband is enthusiastic about wearing yellow as a means to complement Curious George, mostly so that in turn you can tell children that he is dressed as Sponge Bob or mustard or jaundice.
In lieu of a sheet cake, this is really the best part of Halloween.