Monday, November 7, 2011

Belated thoughts on Halloween

When I was a kid, Halloween the anticipation for Halloween was almost as much as the anticipation for Christmas morning.  Dressing up and going out in packs of children around the neighborhood, stalking people who had the poor idea to leave porch lights on, and basically being grumbly when we'd hit the one or two people that gave us an apple or a toothbrush was just so much fun.

Seriously - did you ever hear a pack of children grumble at the same time?  It's like walking towards an ongoing avalanche.  The sound gets louder and louder, and it fills your ears.  Only by backing away or getting in a building can you shut it off.  And we as kids would all know it was coming because you'd hear the really fake-attempt at being happy, "An APPLE!  GEE THANKS MR. JOHNSON!" said in the loudest voice possible, so that kids on the other side of the neighborhood would know that Mr. Johnson was not giving away the coveted candy, he was giving away something *gasp* healthy.

And usually as suddenly as it started, the droves of children would vanish.  It would be as if someone switched all the kids to off.  Inside houses, I assume everyone had the same thing happening - children dumping out their baskets or bags, and going through what they liked versus what they'd try to pawn off on their siblings or pets.

"Peanut butter cups, keep.  Milk duds, give to cat.  Popcorn toy.  Snickers, keep.  Chocolate, keep.  Apple, give to guinea pig.  Gum, dump in sister's bag when she's not around, and swipe tiny hersey bars."

Everyone won.  Well, except that sibling that ended up with suddenly double the gum they had when it started.   And my parents when the cat barfed up half eaten milk duds.  And the guinea pig when he couldn't eat the whole apple at once before it went brown....okay, maybe just I won.  And the cat because the popcorn ball *did* make a nice toy.

Here's the thing - we all went around in groups, after dark.  Depending on the age group, there would be a parent or two there with them.  There was never a set time to trick or treat, there was never a set place or date.  It was *always* on the 31st, no matter what day of the week it fell on.  There was no "be done by X" time.  There was no driving to "better" areas to trick or treat.  We just walked around the neighborhood and hit every house we could.

Today, I get depressed when I see people try to switch the date of Halloween to a weekend night.  Or decry Halloween as a holiday for the devil, or use it to attempt to convince us we are all sinners and will all go to hell.  Or set times for trick or treating (it must start exactly at 6 pm and end exactly at 8 pm.  Period.  No exceptions...) or get angry at the guy who sets up his house and scares kids outside in the dark during trick or treat time.

Yes, we live in a world where it's 24-hour media coverage of *everything*.  Sure we had the needles in the apples stories and the poisoned candy stories, but it was just something covered in a few minutes on the news.  I'm convinced that the amount of bad incidents hasn't actually gone up over the years, it's just with the era of everything now and at the touch of a finger, and the love of people for listening to anything *bad* that does happen, it's all we ever hear about. And that leads to us being paranoid that something will happen.

As a kid, I ran around a neighborhood that was on the edge of Baltimore City.  (and not the good edge).  The only bad thing that happened was someone swiped our bikes off our porch when I was about 10.  Someone else's house was broken into when I was much younger, but we would play in the woods, run around to each others' house, and just generally be out and about.  We didn't have the 24 hour news channels telling us every bad thing that was going on.  We had an Atari 2400, a Coleco game and 4 TV channels.  (Plus the new cable).  And I'd frequently walk home in the dark, right next to woods.

I understand the need for safety, but there are times I think that the all-news-all-time reporting on the internet and cable has killed our idea of "this could be fun".

I think when I have kids, I'll still let them run around after dark in the neighborhood, and ride their bikes in the woods.

After I give them mace and a cellphone pre-programmed with 911.  Just in case.