A Halloween Homecoming

jack o lanternHalloween’s always been my favorite holiday. I love the costumes, the candy and the camaraderie. Halloween memories burn bright in my mind.

I grew up in a New York City suburb – exurb at the time – where Halloween went something like this: From toddlerhood to the time I got too cool for it, I’d go to school in costume, come home and head out to the neighborhood parade and costume contest. I’d parade around for the contest and whenever I had a homemade costume — my mom was a great seamstress and designer — I’d place. I never won, but the attention, the cider and cookies all combined to produce some serious joy.

The contest took place before trick-or-treating. When we were small children, the adults would rush home from the costume contest to man their doors for us. We’d all hit the houses, trick-or-treating on our way home. And it was good. We got lots of candy and we were done by dinner. After dinner we’d help Mom and Dad hand out candy, admiring the big kids’ costumes.

There were definite trick-or-treating tiers. From age seven through nine, we’d still attend the party and contest and trick or treat on the way home, but we’d also go out after dinner accompanied by a parent. Once we turned ten, we could go out on our own after dinner. We’d go in groups, hitting every house, so excited to be out after dark. We’d exhaust ourselves on the candy trail and go home, thinking it was sooo late and it was always only seven o’clock — Eastern Standard Time had just recommenced.

Our neighborhood was so great for trick-or-treating that kids of all ages would come from other ‘hoods just to trick-or-treat — or vandalize, depending on their age. Starting about age twelve, we’d go to school in costume and skip the neighborhood contest. When we got home, we gave out candy until dinner, then we’d shed our costumes for “bum” outfits (for that is what they called homeless people at the time), head out and fill our pillowcases with the eggs and shaving cream we’d stashed under a bush. We’d trick or treat for a bit, then meet up with the rest of the older kids and spend the rest of the night egg-bombing houses and lathering cars and having shaving-cream fights with each other. We were young and angry and Halloween was the night we could express it.

When I had my first child, I couldn’t wait to introduce her to Halloween. But things had changed. Trick-or-treating in the neighborhood became trick-or-treating on Main Street. Instead of meeting the neighbors, kids solicited sweets from strangers at stores and restaurants. We lived in a different world, not just figuratively – we lived in Seattle, and it was a far cry from New York. For one thing, it always rained on Halloween. All of the Halloweens we endured there were wet. For another thing, people didn’t participate in Halloween like they used to. Maybe it was the Main Street event; maybe it was the Seattle Freeze; but very few neighbors welcomed trick-or-treaters on Halloween.

Basically, for the first six years of our kids’ lives, Halloween sucked. I thought about doing the Main Street thing a few times, but the rain and all the complaints I’d heard about parking and big crowds kept us away. Plus I’m a purist. I believe in spending Halloween in your own neighborhood. So that’s what we did. We’d go to the five participating houses and call it a night.

When we moved back to Maryland, I didn’t know what to expect on Halloween. You can imagine how psyched I was when our neighbors told us to buy two enormous bags of candy. Our neighborhood is full of kids, and it’s self-contained and basically safe for kids to roam the streets. And that is exactly what we, and they, did. We joined close friends and hit the houses. Almost every house was lit (the universal sign for “We have candy”) and everybody was friendly. Some neighbors sat on their driveways giving out candy and chatting. Some staged elaborate scary scenes in their yards. But the best thing about Halloween in our neighborhood was that kids were everywhere. They even came from other neighborhoods. I almost cried because it was just like the Halloweens I’d known. All it was missing was the vandalism, and, as an adult and a homeowner, I was relieved about that.

We were supposed to miss Halloween this year. We’d planned to go to Key West for the Parrot Head convention, but we had a change in plans. I was pretty bummed at the time (See “So Close and Yet So Far“) but it turned out that we were exactly where we needed to be. Much as I missed the fun in Key West, I wouldn’t have missed this Halloween for the world.