Of the 365 days of the year on which my birthday could have fallen, I have always been supremely grateful that my entrance into the world coincided with Halloween. It was the one day of the school year unmarred by homework, the day that kindly strangers willingly handed over all manner of goodies at the press of a doorbell, and the sole opportunity, year-long, to assume a persona 180 degrees removed from my little bookworm self. Perhaps best of all, I knew that every kid across America celebrated my birthday in grand style. In my own neighborhood, gaggles of miniature firemen, Cinderellas, Barbie Dolls, and Supermen flew from stoops, their jewel-colored capes fluttering behind them, their trick or treat bags filled to bursting, their laughter tinkling on the autumnal wind.
The day that I became a teenager, my thirteenth birthday, I stopped ringing bells. Longing to run unfettered through the night air playing innocent pranks with my friends, it was the worst birthday of my young life. Although “too old” to be hiding out behind my death’s head mask, I vowed to keep the holiday alive when I really grew up. Those who know and love me best will argue my maturity; however, I did keep my promise. Should my birthday fall during the week, I take the day off from work. Vigilantly, I compose a minimum of one hundred brightly colored goodie bags into which I slip at least three different types of candy (the good kind!) and a small trinket, such a spider ring. Well past adolescence now, I’ve refused all offers to celebrate my birthday in upscale restaurants. I’ve never seen a play, traveled, enjoyed a concert, caught the latest film, or even entertained friends on Halloween.
Instead, I lie in wait outside my house, where fat spiders spin in the wind and Frankenstein’s monster claws his way out of the earth. Outwardly, I am but a former shade of the kid who prowled the New York streets in a tracery of silver bones. But in my heart, I am still that child. Now I wait in delicious anticipation of the children who will come demanding treats. And each year, fewer and fewer rouged, winged, eye-patched, bloodied revelers rush up beside me breathless, yanking open their pillowcases for their treasures to tumble therein.
Is Halloween going the way of Christmas: blatantly commercial, ripped of its original meaning, and devoid of genuine spirit? Has it been trampled by those who view the holiday as pagan, zealous breast-thumpers who prize political correctness over small, innocent joys that celebrate the sanctity of childhood? Those who are offended by the Christ in Christmas have also bastardized Halloween, renaming the holiday “Autumn Festival” in our school systems and forbidding the donning of costumes that might insult someone.
Why do parents unafraid to leave their children day after day, year after year, in the care of school systems that preach Diversity and critical thinking, and who work simultaneously to dismantle both principles, forbid their youngsters to ring doorbells in their own familiar neighborhoods on All Hallows Eve? Why do the same parents who grant their children unrestrained access to violence via broadcast news and clips on Internet browser pages, shrink in terror from the exposure of formative minds to time-honored, moralistic films such as the original Dracula and Frankenstein? In becoming PC, have we, in fact, become a nation of the bland and unimaginative? Have we, a melting pot of richly diverse peoples and beliefs, returned to the Puritanical? Have we murdered Halloween? My answer? Only if we allow it!
If you feel as I do, if you remember the thrill of Halloweens past and wish to preserve this fun-filled holiday for your own progeny’s enjoyment, here is some ammunition for you. Please, aim it straight at the myopic, ignorant hearts of the naysayers and others masquerading as politically correct.
Those who credit Halloween as an evil machination of the Druids have not been educated in the ways that religions have, down through the centuries, emerged. In order to sell any new religion, in order to gain converts, practitioners lift rituals and symbols from older faiths to incorporate them into the newer creeds. The miracle of water turning into wine and the very symbol of the Christmas tree — cornerstones of the Christian faith — are, in fact, taken directly from Druidism and younger pagan (read: Earth-friendly, eco-conscious) religions.
The ancient Druids also believed that Halloween was the one day of the year on which the veil between the living and the dead hung at its thinnest. In other words, if you longed to communicate with a loved one “on the other side” in order to receive guidance, or just to honor that person, Halloween was the most efficacious day on which to do so. The Catholic religion relegates a day for similar observances: two days after Halloween, in fact! On All Souls’ Day, Catholics around the world pray for and honor their dead.
The intent behind the enduring symbol of the jack-o-lantern was never to strike terror into God-fearing souls or to manifest Devil worship; it was just the opposite. In ancient Scotland and Ireland, people carved frightful faces into pumpkins and root vegetables, inserted a smoldering coal into the vegetables’ hulls, and carted the jack-o-lanterns over the countryside or propped them up in windows to ward off evil spirits. In the Catholic faith, we make the Sign of the Cross and clutch our rosaries when we sense the approach of evil. I do not single out Catholicism, as every religion has its own talismans.
Honor Halloween, for your children’s sakes. Encourage them to design and create their own costumes that reflect their individual personalities, fantasies, fears, and aspirations. Accompany them on their trick or treating escapades. Leave the car in the garage and tread the darkening streets. Quit moaning about the housework that you could be doing or the report that must be written by tomorrow morning. Look closely at your children’s laughing faces as they flit like brightly colored moths between houses glowing with jack-o-lanterns against the gathering chill. Childhood is fleeting and precious; tomorrow, your little ones will return to harsh realities. On All Hallows’ Eve, on this one day of the year, let them be children.