Trick or Treat, Sick or Sweet?

I’m late coming to an appreciation for Hallowe’en as a holiday.  As a child, my memory of our suburban trick or treating was uninspired – just donning a makeshift costume to collect free candy from neighbours we mostly didn’t know.

Getting older didn’t help me get into the spirit, really.   Basically, I never learned to play dress-up.  It didn’t help when a work colleague added her critique of Hallowe’en by describing it as “a holiday that revolves around food waste” – she was referring to pumpkins, but the remark would surely apply to the the sugar gorge too.  And although I understand in theory the idea that getting out the blood and guts once a year can be a therapeutic and safe way to let off conscious or unconscious fear and violent steam, on the ground I can’t help but consider the ghoulish masks and dismembered limbs to be evidence of a suffering society.

I kind of don’t get Hallowe’en.

But six years ago, my husband and I moved to Leslieville, a village-like community in downtown Toronto.  Our neighbourhood is filled with children, and for our first (childless) Hallowe’en year here, I was astonished by the celebration.  It seemed like everyone on our densely populated street were out in costume, yelling out to each other, cranking smoke machines and stereos, and enthusiastically greeting young trick or treaters by name.  The sidewalks were filled; people had to pass one other by stepping into the street.

It was a street party, where everyone, all ages, were welcome.  There was spirit.  There was community.  And I loved it.

So I’m not baffled by Hallowe’en anymore, because the appeal of a holiday that uniquely gets everyone out of their houses at the same time to party is obvious.  But I’m not fully converted.  I still find the candy glut and bloody costumes to be unimaginative and gross.  I wish my husband wouldn’t carve such scary faces on our pumpkins.

I dislike that last year my four year old son was so frightened by the horror scenes that he could barely go door-to-door as he desperately wanted to do (one example:  our neighbours re-enacted a scene of the headless horseman on their front lawn, complete with a blood-covered bride and the decapitation of a straw man lying on the ground, with entrails hanging from the lopped-off head).  This year, my son has been socialized enough to parrot our words that it’s all pretend and talks happily of spooky decorations, but for a week he has woken up screaming with “bad dreams that I have around Hallowe’en for some reason”.

I wish there were a better (more creative, more heartfelt, more meaningful) holiday that could gather us together on the streets for one night of the year.  There isn’t though.

And now I have children.  They like dressing up in costumes, and I’ve learned to paint their faces.  They’re part of a community that really likes Hallowe’en; they know many of the people whose houses they visit; they like to be part of the fantastic party; they like to eat sugary treats (they’re allowed a few on Hallowe’en night, and the odd candy after that).

So we go.  It’s usually a fun night, and makes me feel good about where I live.

And then I’m glad it’s over.

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