Halloween, I hear, is now the second most popular American celebration, after Christmas, of course. One of the front lawns in our daughter's neighborhood was filled with pumpkins, witches, skeletons, and billboard messages unfit for publication on a website as staid as this one. Betsy put a string of small orange lights in our front window. Down the street a teenager festooned the Japanese maple in front of her house with toilet paper. At the aquatic center yesterday, while I was treating myself to a few minutes in the hot tub, I spied a large conical black hat resting on the tile near the kiddy pool.
Robert and Henry and their school chums made the round of houses in our neighborhood. The night may be touted as "Trick or Treat," but, from what I could see, it was mostly treat. When Henry returned from his rounds, he invited me to lift his bag of sweets. It felt like he had a couple of bowling balls. Spilling the candy onto a large drop cloth, he and his twin counted their spoils: 209 items for Henry; 230, for Robert. Because the boys are peanut allergic and have no taste for chocolate, I inherited my own pile of Snickers, etc., equal to their swag. I'll be floating on a hypoglycemic reaction for the next month. Betsy, for her part, received the Hershey's. Barbara was left out in the cold for no apparent reason.
Halloween is short for, you surely know, All Hallows Eve. All Hallows goes by another name nowadays, All Saints. The next day is All Souls. I doubt that any of the children in our neighborhood had either of these holy days in mind while collecting their bounty of sweets. Public Schools that would never allow the singing of Christmas carols routinely hold Halloween parties. Jewish families in our corner of West Hartford who would never ever trim a tree in late December nonetheless carve pumpkins and permit their children to go for the swag.
Not that Halloween is especially religious. I suspect that like Christmas the Christian Church long ago followed the rule that if you can't beat 'em, co-opt 'em. The parade of "ghouls and ghosties and things that go bump in the night," with which October 31st is enchanted, belongs surely to pre-Christian rites, owing more to animism than to Biblical monotheism. Maybe in this Age of Aquarius the fascination with Halloween means the world is turning to a more ancient mindset. I would hope not since freedom from the elemental powers and principalities (a fine Biblical category) was hard won over many, many generations; and we in the Twenty-first Century cannot begin to imagine the fears and the slaveries of the mind in a world in which demons and devils lurked around every dark corner. Walt Disney may make us smile with his conceptions of the magical. But there is another dark side to the magical that periodically erupts in headlines about psychopathic killers.
Let's let Halloween be what it was for Bobby Howard and is now for Robert and Henry Carnes, a wonderful evening to go from house to house filling a bag with candy. How else am I ever going to get my private stash of Snickers?