For nine years, my wife and I lived in the city, down a long lane, next to the Quaker meeting I pastored. Our first Halloween, we loaded up on candy, anticipating a horde of pirates, ghosts, and witches. But the lane was dark and spooky and not one kid showed up, so for the next month, we ate mini Snickers for dessert at every meal, even breakfast. Then we moved to a small town, and carloads of urchins mobbed our home at Halloween, swarming our front door like rats on raw meat. After the first hour, we were out of candy and began emptying our cupboard to beat back the mob, doling out squares of baking chocolate, sugar cubes, packets of Sweet’N Low. When we ran out of treats, they began TP’ing our trees, soaping our windows, and igniting paper sacks of manure on our porch. It was wonderfully nostalgic, reminding me of my childhood, and I went to bed happy.
We made the mistake of leaving our pumpkin outside, and woke the next morning to find it splattered on the street in front of our house.
“And they say the youth of today have no gumption!” I said to my wife, thrilled to be living in a town whose youth weren’t adverse to labor. If you’ve ever hefted a pumpkin over your head to smash it, you’ll know it’s no easy task.
It wasn’t as if I were out any money. I got the pumpkin free at the hardware store in our town. If you wait until Halloween to get your pumpkin, as I do, the hardware man will pay you to take it off his hands. Nor did I invest much time carving the pumpkin. Triangle eyes, a square nose, and a gap-toothed smile. I’ve carved every pumpkin the exact same way since I was 6 years old and my parents first entrusted me with a knife.
I remember that day well, because I still have the scar. While blood was spurting in a high arc from my forearm, my father said, “Yep, that’s a cut all right. Looks like you hit an artery.” My father exposed me to danger early and often so the lessons would stick. Sever an artery once, and you’ll think twice before doing it again, I guarantee it.
But things changed on the Halloween front. Parents horned in on what had been a kid’s affair. Children were no longer turned loose to find their own costumes, there was no more rifling through the attic for hobo clothes. Costume stores began sprouting up, and parents shelled out 50 bucks for their kid to be a ninja, a Spiderman, or a ballerina. Costumes became the measure of parental worth.
Around the same time as the outbreak of costume stores, someone discovered there was money to be made selling pumpkin-carving kits. There were no kits in my day, by cracky. A steak knife from the silverware drawer sufficed. Gone were the pumpkins with perfectly good triangle eyes and noses and gap-toothed smiles. Then someone, Martha Stewart, I think, wrote a magazine article about decorating with pumpkins, and, before long, pumpkins were sculpted by adults, not carved by kids. That was when Halloween began floating belly-up in the holiday fishbowl. Martha Stewart was sent to jail, but for entirely the wrong reason.
Now, God help us, parents are accompanying their children door to door. I would have sooner stayed home than had my parents tag along the night of Halloween. What is a boy to do when, in the presence of his parents, he must administer a well-deserved trick to the grouch down the street? His hand dips furtively into the folds of the costume to withdraw a bar of soap, only to have his father, who has forgotten the pure joy of delinquency, give him the stink eye. What have we become?
Certain pastors I know get all worked up about Christmas losing its meaning. This pastor is fine with Christmas. I want to return Halloween to its former glory. So I’m starting a movement to reclaim Halloween. First, no more adults poking their noses in where they don’t belong. If a kid wants to go trick-or-treating, the kid will have to come up with the costume, not the parent. No more store-bought costumes. It will be against the law. Second, every fourth house will have to hand out popcorn balls. There is no candy bar in the world that compares with a popcorn ball, but no one hands them out anymore. My movement will promise a popcorn ball in every Halloween bag.
If this sounds good to you, I urge you to write in my name during the next presidential election so I can get these, and other, crucial problems solved.