Halloween this year felt different for many reasons. We are no longer in the darkest hours of a worldwide pandemic. My children are now tweens and want us at least 50 paces behind them (or completely absent) while trick or treating. And last but not least, it was a Sunday night, which is just ridiculous. Can we all just agree that Halloween should be the last Saturday of October, regardless of the date?
But it felt different this year for another reason: it occurred to me that Halloween has now become an event just as much for parents as their children. Forgive me, I may start channeling Andy Rooney here (and there’s nothing wrong with that, though my eyebrows are groomed). When did Halloween become something for adults to do alongside their kids? I’m not talking about parents helping with costumes, some of us more intensely (and craftily) than others. And it seems completely reasonable to supervise your children approaching stranger’s houses to ask them for a “treat”. What I’m talking about is the full parental investment in Halloween that many parents in my social milieu seem to embrace. The decorating of the house, typically starting in the first week of October and with no small expense. The massive effort expended on the parent’s costume, often coordinated with the co-parent (witty references to old movies, clever puns on current-day social media phenomenon, etc.). The coordination may even involve the entire family and pet (insert mental picture of a family dressed as characters in Star Wars, etc.).
It doesn’t stop there, the pictures of all of the above then have to be posted on social media, #happyhalloween, #spookyseason, #october. It appears to take up many man/woman/adult hours of thought, manual labor, not to mention money to put all of this together. And for what? How exactly does this change the child’s experience of Halloween? I can’t help but wonder what difference it makes for kids to have a traditionally “kids only” experience so carefully crafted by the adults in their lives?
Perhaps, most obviously, it adds to their enjoyment of it all! What may previously have been a week or two of anticipation (a kind way to describe children badgering their adult to take them to the store to buy a costume), becomes a family effort to spread Halloween spirit and give everyone something to look forward to as the days become darker and colder. Perhaps it is a fun and creative bonding ritual. Kids finally get to see their parents having fun on their same level, dressing up and being silly, truly being able to “play”, an activity which we parents so often deprive ourselves. I can’t help but wonder what that might have been like as a child and I suspect it would have been magical.
However, the curmudgeon in me wonders if parental management of Halloween structures one more thing that used to (at least in my childhood) be fairly relaxed and free reign. Aside from helping to procure costumes (and hosting trick-or-treaters), I’m hard pressed to say what else my parents did for Halloween. I fully acknowledge that my childhood experience is just that, mine alone. Even now, in the age of Amazon, what it means for parents to help prep a costume is another thing entirely. My point is that Halloween was for kids; we talked about it amongst ourselves, enjoyed it with each other, and brought home stories about it to our parents. Nowadays, as with so much of childhood, it feels like parents are uber-involved in creating an “experience”, which of course then has to match others (on social media no less).
I suppose this essay is my attempt to make myself feel better for how little interest I have in managing yet another aspect of my children’s lives. For those of you who enjoy the holiday as a way to return to costume-wearing, being scared of things other than climate change and who’s in the White House, go for it! Celebrate Halloween for its own sake and don’t apologize for it. But for those of you who, like me, seem at best confused and at worse annoyed by the wholesale parental embrace of Halloween, let’s all give ourselves permission to sit this holiday out. Kids can dress up, traipse around the neighborhood, and scare themselves silly. I’ll be on my couch with a glass of wine, waiting until I can start being kvetching about the next holiday to “celebrate”.