I got a rock.—Charlie Brown
Halloween is meant to frighten us: ghouls, ghosts, and skeletons.
My ninety-year-old grandmother resented the neighborhood decorations, reminders of the frail bones in her own hands, and of her own impending death.
Arthur Conan Doyle wrote in his Sherlock Holmes novel A Study in Scarlet, “Where there is no imagination, there is no horror.”
We have heightened the meaning of Halloween, once considered the beginning of winter, the dark half of the year, or All Hallows Eve, the time to pray for recently dead members of the family. These days we think October 31 is all about mummies, gore, witches, and pranks.
But I think our culture has enough violence, death, and masked ugliness. A little charm and levity on Halloween aim to delight children and remind us that we all have a stake, not in Dracula’s heart, but a claim to laughter and candy along the streets of our imaginations.
I was a hobo, the easiest costume to make: a bit of charcoal rubbed on my face, a seedy hat from the closet, a torn shirt. I was a cowboy in first grade, resenting the fake wool glued to my pants and a boy sitting next to me in class who called me a sissy. When I was a teenager, I thought it would be fun to dress up in my father’s old tuxedo he used to go ballroom dancing in his youth and pretend that
I was Charlie Chaplin. When I walked downstairs to exhibit my clever idea, my father looked up from the newspaper and said, sadly, “Take it off.”
One Halloween my best friend Johnny and I realized we could cover more ground and ring more doorbells if we grabbed our bikes and zoomed around town to collect great amounts of Hershey Bars and Milky Ways, and those small paper bags people once gave out filled with candy corn and, if you were lucky, a quarter.
I decided one Halloween to re-create typical traditions for my own three children: bobbing for apples and running in the back yard with socks filled with flour. “Run in the yard and smack the trees and see the ghosts appear.” They loved watching the flour bloom out of the socks and puff up into clouds of midnight phantoms.
If you want to create sure-fired entertainment for your children or grandchildren on Halloween, make tissue ghosts. Take two tissues, scrunch one in a ball. Take the other and drape it over the ball. Twist a bit of string at the base to make a head, place two, black magic marker dots for eyes, and let the children run with the ghosts trailing behind them on the strings.
Yes, of course, Halloween: moans from the grave, fake coffins on the lawns, William Shakespeare’s brooding witches in Macbeth: “Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn, and cauldron bubble.” I get it. Eye of a newt, bats, owl wings, a hell broth to cook on Halloween.
But I’d rather drink apple cider and entertain the mist of my own ghost that swirls around me whispering, “It is not time for death, but time to carve the pumpkin and answer the doorbell. The children are there.”
—Things That Matter Most: Essays on Home, Friendship, and Love, Christopher de Vinck