Halloween is one of the few holidays that has changed completely depending on how old I am.
As a child, I donned a Halloween costume and went trick-or-treating, hoping to accumulate as much candy as possible in the allotted time. I learned to despise homeowners who gave us trail mix or Rice Crispie squares and adore those who were generous enough to offer full sized candy bars to children.
As a teenager, I became more enamored with the tricks and not the treats. Egging the homes and toilet papering the front lawns of deserving teachers and loathsome trail mix dispensers became the order of the day.
As much as I loved trick-or-treating as a child, this was better. More exciting. More dangerous. My favorite of all my Halloween experiences.
My car was once toilet papered by friends so completely that I walked right past it, wondering what poor sucker would be cleaning all that off his car before driving to work.
As a late teenager and twenty-something, Halloween shifted again. It became an excuse to throw a party. The importance of costumes returned, but instead of using them for trick-or-treating, they were an excuse to gather, flirt, and drink excessively. Bobbling for apples became quasi wet tee shirt contests. Princesses became sexy nurses. Plastic, super hero masks became costumes designed to demonstrate your cleverness and creativity to the opposite sex.
As I got older, the costume party scene began to evaporate. Sexy nurses got married. Excessive drinking lost its luster. Until I had children of my own, Halloween became an awkward time when a handful of colleagues dressed up in Halloween costumes during the work day, and I spent my Halloweens at home, watching horror movies, handing out candy, and feeling lame.
Eventually, I became a teacher, and this filled my Halloween days with classroom parties, costume parades, and the childhood excitement of Halloween that I had long since forgotten.
In an attempt to embrace the excitement, I created short films for school assemblies that terrified children and upset kindergarten teachers. I devised stories to tell my students that (in the words of Mo Willems) scared the tuna salad out of them.
Then my own children came along, so once again I find myself walking the streets of my neighborhood, trick-or-treating. Nowadays, there is responsibility associated with Halloween. I have a peanut-allergic daughter, so I must remain vigilant when inspecting candy. I must be watchful for cars and creeps. I am required to shoot photographs in low light and carry tired children in my arms.
There is a sense of childhood joy in Halloween again, but there is also responsibility and obligation. Wariness and even a tiny bit of worry.
I love it, but it’s not the same as when I was a child. Not even close.
I probably have about a dozen years of this version of Halloween before my children are asking to trick-or-treat on their own. Perhaps the tricks will become more important than the treats for them, too.
I hope so.
I’m not sure what happens to Halloween after that. I would imagine that for many older adults, Halloween becomes an evening of answering doorbells and handing out candy. Little more.
I’ll have to find something better. Something joyous or thrilling or both. I see the excitement in my students’ eyes and my children’s eyes and want to hold onto that. Never let it go.
Maybe I’ll volunteer at a haunted house. Or attend a Rocky Horror Picture Show performance. Or take grandchildren trick-or-treating.
Or maybe I’ll just egg just a few more houses.