Halloween is a Community Treat
Halloween is a redundancy around our house. My boys are almost always in costume -- especially my older son, five-year-old Julian. Pirate gear is a dependable fashion choice, though elements of the Untamed West are lately creeping in. He's just as likely, though, to don a wig of curls and a favored purple dress. The use of flowing scarves tapered off for a time, then returned. Eventually, I suppose he will abandon his cross-gender costuming impulses. William, slowly sneaking up on three years of age, is more subtle in his costume palette. He's a hat man. He'll place any hat-like item on his head -- sack, box, baseball mitt, whatever. Overall, William carries his substantial charm with a measure of dignity. Little does he seem to know that when he places that little conductor's hat, for example, on his head, that he's reaching Norman Rockwell-level particle accelerator of cuteness. If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of hearts melting around him.Halloween may be redundant, in my eyes, but for my boys, it's the Great Permission to expound endlessly on costume ideas. We've got plans in the works for the pirate-hummingbird, the zombie-schoolteacher, the sheriff of the moon. Any combination is possible in the minds of my boys; paradoxes do not thwart them. And so every day, my wife and I are subjected to endless running monologues, stream-of-conscious pontifications of costume revelations.For me, the impetus to costume has shifted from myself to my house. Years ago, I built a haunted porch, complete with scary dolls, chilling music, exotic draperies and flickering candles. It's a labor of love; I want my home to participate in this greatest, most egalitarian, holiday. Consequently, my front porch is an emporium of horror. It takes courage to walk up to my diabolical diorama.The irony is that for all the fear that Halloween is supposed to generate, we somehow manage the daring to do what we would otherwise never think of: knock on the door of a perfect stranger, and ask for something. Halloween encourages us to trust each other, to transcend our everyday boundaries. It inspires friendliness and cooperation. Is there any other holiday that comes close?Christmas, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving and Easter, for example, can inspire giving. At Christmas time, door-to-door caroling is still, thank goodness, an activity that hasn't completely disappeared. But these sorts of celebrations are, for the most part, nuclear family-oriented. Imagine, for instance, approaching random domiciles, hoping for wrapped Christmas presents from their occupants. Other cultural celebrations, such as New Year's Eve and Fourth of July, are generally more communal, yet these festivities usually commence in large, public places. Halloween, on the other hand, has no public venue. It hits us squarely in our homes. We can, if we want, turn off the lights, and pretend we're not home, but there's risk involved in that. Vandalism might occur. And so Halloween forces us to open our doors -- to anyone.For a culture that's lost touch with its neighborhood existence, Halloween is a return to an earlier, pre-television mode of interaction. And despite the predictable numbers of corporate-marketing uniforms, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers costumes, the Bart Simpsons, the Barneys, Halloween inspires creativity. For every corporate clone, there are a dozen home-made costumes. Improvisation is necessary -- and every act of improvisation is an homage to innovation.Whenever I see a police officer, fire fighter, or nurse on Halloween, I wonder: is this a costume -- or are they really what they appear? This, I think, is the puzzle and beauty of Halloween. This holiday, our most pagan celebration, reminds us that our clothing, our uniform, is a mere mask. Beneath it, we are always something else. Halloween shakes us down, loosens us up, invites us to dance with our own, personal archetypes.My sons can't wait to assemble and try on their costumes -- whatever paradox they finally decide upon. Fundamentally, Halloween gives give them a chance to flirt with their terrors, to manage these insecurities by becoming those very things they fear most: pirates, devils, zombies, boogymen.Halloween manifests these powerful fears and brings them out of the dark, and into the eerie glow of the jack-o-lantern. We take that terror door-to-door, so we can show it to others, our friends, neighbors, and other strangers. In fact, we are rewarded for our bravery with sweets. There, in the flicker of Halloween's creepy light, we exchange fear for trust. It's a trick and a treat.