Halloween! As a kid I was basically insane over it. I could not believe that if all I did was put on one of my dad’s old sports coats, one his 50s-style grey hats, and smear on my face some charcoal from our barbeque, I was totally qualified to go to people’s houses and ask them to give me candy for free.
Any other day, I’d get arrested for doing that. I’d tried it before. When I was about three, I derived from experiencing Halloween the lesson that if you dressed oddly your neighbors were obliged to give you free candy. So about three weeks after my first Halloween I put back on my Casper the Ghost outfit and mask, and, in the middle of the day, returned to trick-or-treating.
I thought those were the rules: You had to give free candy to little kids who dressed weird and knocked on your door.
The weird thing is, it worked. People gave me stuff. They gave me candy! Well, sort of. Most people didn’t have too much regular candy around. But they gave me Fizzies, or cookies, or half-sandwiches. Whatever. Old pizza. Cigarettes. I remember one old lady gave me some walnuts. I wasn’t all that keen on walnuts I had to break open, but I remember watching them fall to the bottom of my pillow case, and thinking, “Well, it’s food. If I had to, I could actually survive this way.”
Which, looking back on it now, I can see is a pretty disturbing perspective.
One old lady asked me in for tea. Tea! I was like, “Who am I, Alice in Wonderland? Are we supposed to visit? I appreciate your old-time cordial ways, but I’m on a mission. If you wanna give me a couple of sugar cubes, fine. But get on it. I’m busy.”
She was so sweet. I thought how later I’d return to her house and be nice to her. I don’t remember if I ever did. Which means I didn’t. Bummer. (Dear lady up in heaven right now: sorry I never came back to your house to enjoy some tea with you. I should have. You seemed totally nice.)
Anyway, my mom was not thrilled when I came wandering back home with a pillowcase one-third full of weird foodstuffs people had given me. I remember there was half a bottle of pancake syrup in there.
Who gives a kid pancake syrup? People are so weird.
Halloween—actual Halloween, when I was older—was for me always about volume. I could never understand kids I saw on Halloween walking from one house to another. Didn’t they understand the system? And what was the deal with staying on the sidewalk? I could never believe how many kids would walk all the way down the walkway to the porch, back onto the sidewalk, and then all the way over to the next house.
Forget that. Unless there was an electrical fence between one house and the other, I was barging straight through. Shrubbery, low fences, parked cars: I didn’t care. It was all about efficacy of access.
By the end of the night, my Halloween costumes were always pretty destroyed: Shredded, torn, branches and mud all over them. I usually did look pretty scary by the end of the night. But less in a fun, Halloweeny kind of way than in a "wanted by the police" kind of way.
Here’s how seriously I used to take Halloween night: I carried an extra trick-or-treat bag with me. When my first bag got too full, I’d hide it somewhere, pull out my new bag, and keep going. I didn’t want to be weighed down.
I can totally see, looking back, why my friends were never with me throughout Halloween night. We’d always start out together—the old, fun gang, embarking on the frenetic joy that was Halloween night. But then, about twenty minutes into it, I’d basically ditch them for being too slow. And by then they were always happy to see me go; they were already tired of me complaining at them to pick up the pace.
Awful. I was an awful friend.
But the next day, they’d show me how much candy they’d snagged the night before—and I’d be, like, “What?! Where’s the rest of it? I could have gotten this much if I was in a wheelchair. What the heck's the matter with you? How do you sleep at night knowing this is all the candy you got?”
You know who always impressed me with the quality of her haul? My sister. She was no me or anything, but she always did surprisingly well. And whenever I saw her out there in the dark going from house to house, I never saw her running. I have no idea how she did it.
She probably beat up other kids and took their candy. But that’s really a whole other story.
Once I became a Christian (at 38 and out of nowhere—an experience you can read about here), I started learning all kinds of things about Christians I wouldn’t have suspected in a million years. Chief amongst them was that many of them were Seriously Opposed to Halloween.
My first Halloween as a Christian I went to a function put on by my church—one of those “Safe and Jesus-Centered Hallelujahween!”-type events, done the night of Halloween. The kids there were actually having a good time, running all around, screaming and laughing. The parents were engaged with them, and otherwise talking and being friendly with one another. It all felt so healthy, and happy. We were in a big brightly lit room. From inside the room I looked out a window. But the reflected lights kept me from seeing how dark it was out there.