Thursday, October 9, 2014

22 Days 'Til Halloween: Communal experiences

We're almost a third of the way through the countdown here, so what better time for me to make a confession that may very well completely obliterate any and all of my credibility as a self-professed lover of all things All Hallow's Eve: it has been years and years since I've given out candy or decorated the exterior of my house for the night in question, and that includes every single Halloween that my wife and I (and our kids) have lived at our current address. Cue the righteous eggings!

This may or may not be excusable, but at the very least permit me to explain: among my circle of local friends, or at least the subset within that circle who have had children, my wife and I were among the last to get to baby-making. So by the time the little guy was old enough to trick-or-treat, my friends had already established something of an annual tradition in all families converging on my buddy Clutch's house at dinnertime on the 31st, scarfing some pizza, and then sending out all the kids in one big group to knock on doors, pumpkin pails in hand, while a few of the grown-ups ambled along behind them to supervise. And the primary reason for this is that Clutch's neighborhood is pretty ideal for trick-or-treating. Getting multiple families together at all has its own logical appeal, because the kids get along and have more fun in a big group outing, and many parental hands make for light work in what could otherwise be a boring trudge. But rather than rotate through everyone's neighborhood year-by-year, it's always Clutch who hosts, because he happens to live in a planned community where there are tons of families and the houses are all really close together on postage-stamp lots, which makes going door-to-door optimally efficient. On top of which, just about everyone who lives in that neighborhood goes crazy for Halloween, no doubt due to one of those self-perpetuating cycles where a couple of families do the whole bit with decorating the yard and handing out candy in costume, and that leads to all the kids who live in the neighborhood, who see the decorations go up weeks earlier, suggesting to their friends that everybody meet up at their house for trick-or-treating, so there's a lot of foot traffic on Halloween, which prompts everyone in the neighborhood to up their game a little and maybe put up lights or window decals or join the holiday arms race of full-scale haunted house conversions, and that in turn pushes the original trend-setters to greater heights of excess, which makes the neighborhood even more of a must-see destination for trick-or-treaters, &c. &c.

And that held a lot of appeal to me, as well, I admit. Much as I love it, Halloween is a children's holiday; it's my inner child that loves it to this day. My buddy Clutch's neighborhood is a veritable Halloween wonderland every October, and I'm thrilled that our friendship serves as my kids' entree to that. I get a huge kick out of the locals who erect entire graveyards on their front lawn, or prop up a giant inflatable spider straddling the SUV in their driveway, but I don't trek out there for my own sake. Hopefully my kids will look back on these Halloweens as something magical, the ultimate ideal of what trick-or-treating should be like.

And I kind of wish my family lived in Clutch's neighborhood, because there is not a doubt in my mind that I would be one of the homeowners spending the entire first weekend of every October rigging up elaborate set dressings, possibly with a different theme every year. But more to the point, I would feel like there was more give and take, that I was contributing to the overall fright fest and candy harvest instead of simply letting my kids consume it. But instead I've become a permanent mooching tourist.

On the flipside, because the whole family is elsewhere every Halloween, there's no one at home to give out candy to the kids who do live in our neighborhood. This is not as reprehensible as parents sending their kids out into the streets to get free candy from the neighbors, and while the kids are out pretending they're not at home so as to avoid giving out their own share of treats to the neighbors' kids ... but nobody actually does that, do they? Still, there's a tiny part of me that feels like I'm letting the children who live in my zip+4 down somehow, by making my street less target-rich for trick-or-treating. And that's why you won't see so much as a single pumpkin on my front steps in October, let alone any rubber bats or cardboard skeletons in the windows. Halloween decorations are essentially visual shorthand for "trick-or-treaters welcome here!" and I don't want to compound my bailing on my own neighborhood by being intentionally misleading to boot. To be fair, very few houses on my street decorate for Halloween, either, and there's not a ton of kids who live around us, but all the same, it weighs on my mind a bit. (I was raised Catholic, after all - what's a holiday without a heaping helping of guilt?)

Clutch's youngest is eleven years old, and someday in the not-too-distant future she will be too old to trick-or-treat. Maybe Clutch will still be happy to open his home as trick-or-treating HQ every fall, or maybe the tradition will shift and change. Or maybe my won kids will make friends in elementary school and put their feet down about trick-or-treating with their own pals, instead of the offspring of mine. For now, though, they do seem to like going out with "the big kids" and trick-or-treating through a sprawl of homes that look like the fever dream of a party store's Halloween catalog run riot. As is almost always the case when I step back and give myself advice, maybe I should just stop overthinking it and enjoy the ride.

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