Halloween confuses me.
I suppose I enjoy the costume part. This year, I saw a middle-schooler dressed as Donald Trump and a baby dressed as a zombie. The son of a dear family friend garnered serious Instagram attention after Disney Pixar posted a picture of him dressed as Russell from “Up.” The creativity and craftiness of people amazes me.
It also humbles me. I am forced to confront, again, that I lack imagination, might be boring, and am definitely too practical. Each of my children’s costumes was based on clothing they already own. I modified that clothing almost not at all. Somehow, neither of them noticed. I’d like to think that means I’m a very powerful speaker, but I know it actually means they are too easily fooled.
If Halloween were only about the dress-up part, I think I’d be less confused. I’d still wonder why I’m spending any money on an ensemble that will break quickly, or be covered with a coat, or worn for approximately three hours before being stuffed in a plastic bin. But that confusion isn’t materially different from my general confusion surrounding clothes shopping, so it wouldn’t stand out.
The head-scratching part about Halloween is the candy part. I can’t wrap my arms around that part at all.
Approximately 97 percent of early parenting is spent trying to convince children to eat healthy foods. Sweets are relied on as bribery for potty-training, distractions during flu shots, and pleas for silence on airplanes and during grown-up dinnertime. After 364 days of negotiations, explanations, and exhortations, we give a nationwide shoulder shrug and tell our children to have at it.
It’s no wonder that the soundtrack of Halloween is the drumbeat of stampeding sneakers, punctuated by the piccolo pitch of prepubescent screaming. We have released our children from the bondage of balanced eating, and they know they have to take advantage. Pillowcases slung over their shoulders, like hobos who can’t find a stick, they pillage the village that otherwise stickers every available surface with “5-2-1-0 Healthy Habit” reminders.
“How many can we take?,” they breathlessly ask the frightened 73-year-old woman facing the horde at her front door. How many? How is the obvious answer not “one”? Three full-size Hershey bars later, it’s off to the neighbor’s house, with nary a thought to passing cars, younger siblings, or muscle pulls.
The mixology of our signals does not end there, though. We watch, with bemused smiles on our faces, as our children bang on the doors of people who are strangers, or stranger-esque. The same yard we take extra care not to throw baseballs into is the yard we allow them to trample in the pursuit of candy. It’s a wonder that no child has yet observed that the rule should be “don’t take candy from strangers, unless mom and/or dad is watching from the driveway.”
Beneath this frenetic, stranger-fueled candy binge is the curiosity that candy, in small doses, is not expensive. Most of us could buy our children a piece of candy any random Tuesday. Stores are full of candy throughout the year. Some stores exclusively sell candy. But somehow, watching our children being handed candy with no monetary exchange is as satisfying for us as it is for them. (Doubly foolish, given that we spent the equivalent of a full grocery run on a stockpile of candy to hand out from our own front stoops.)
To understand this candy conundrum, I engaged in some investigative journalism. I interviewed a Halloween veteran, someone who could put me at the center of the action: my son, 4-year-old Batman Spiderman (name changed at the request of the interviewee).
“Do you like Halloween?”
“Because I love to eat candy.”
“Why do you love to eat candy?”
“Because I love candy.”
“Do you get scared asking for it?
“Only when there are dogs.”
“How does the candy make your body feel?”
“Is Halloween your favorite holiday?”
“What about Christmas?”
“What about Veterans Day?”
So, there you have it.