Why Halloween Can Bring Out The Best In Us

You don't need a village to celebrate Halloween. All you need is a gourd.

Posted Oct 26, 2015

William Warby/Flickr, used with permission
Source: William Warby/Flickr, used with permission

Why does Halloween remain the occasion upon which we Americans actually have most fun as a group?

It’s not like Halloween has inspired great art. Most of your other major holidays, for example, can claim Handel, or Mozart, or Cole Porter as their balladeers . But there’s no magnificent piece of canonical music that can be seen as the theme song for Halloween, not unless you consider “Monster Mash” a magnificent piece of canonical music.

Okay, here’s why Halloween is the best holiday: we don’t worry about it. Nobody frets about being lonely, abandoned, heartbroken, alienated, or bereft on Halloween. There is about one-one-hundreth as much emotional tension surrounding Halloween as surrounds Valentine’s Day, for example, or New Year’s Eve. Few wring their hands, wondering “What if I’m not asked out on the 31st of October? Does that make me a total loser?”

On Halloween you get to wear a REAL mask, a comic one, an obvious one, and not just an artificial emotional one--which is the sort most of us put on for other official celebrations.

If we agree to define major holidays by the following criteria-- 1. how many decorations are bought by households of all social strata; 2. how many unusual food items are consumed; and 3. how many non-immediate-family members must be dealt with in a friendly manner-- it becomes obvious that Halloween wins on all counts.

1. Halloween decorations are fabulous without being heavy-handedly sentimental, pompously expensive, or in need of complicated wiring--you don't need a whole village to make a Halloween display. All you need is a gourd.

Some women have becomes Queens of Halloween Decor--I believe “Queen” is a designated category when it comes to these matters. 

One woman I know has not only installed the requisite pictures of pumpkins and spiders in her office, but has added--as a bonus-- a bowl filled with excellent candy. In the middle of this bowl there is a green, scaly hand--hahaha, pretty funny, right?--except that when you go to grab a hand full of candy, the hand reaches down to grab back. In sonorous tones, a disembodied voice then either mutters or screeches “What are you doing?” as the scaly fingers curl over and touch the back of the unsuspecting snacker.

This item has so entirely discombobulated certain colleagues that some of them just sit in her office in order to watch their peers become apoplectic when THE HAND goes for their greedy fingers. Naturally it does not stop those who want the excellent candy from clutching their miniature Mars Bars--it just makes the act more entertaining.

2. Forget candied yams, forget cranberry sauce, forget cheap red plastic hearts filled with bad chocolate, forget neon-colored spring chicks made from an unnaturally sticky, sweet, chewy marshmallow-like substance more appropriate for caulking shower tiles than for eating. Halloween is THE holiday for special treats; who doesn’t like we are given permission to indulge our national sweet teeth? Okay, even I might agree that ”food” might be too strong a word to describe these edible items--although I will admit it only after I finish this bowl of the cutest little 3 Musketeers, Snickers, and Kit Kats. They are all so small, how can they be bad for me?

3. Halloween is the holiday where you are supposed to knock on the door of people you don’t know and expect them to give you a gift of something fun to eat or a donation for a good cause of your own choosing. You knock on a strange door after dark, someone answers, you yell a phrase (one hopes that phrase is “trick or treat”), after which the unfamiliar person smiles and gives you a reward. Halloween is all about trusting those you don’t know well, whether you are knocking on their doors or opening your own to them.

What a remarkable expectation in today’s world.