Halloween has its origins in the ancient Celtic observation of Samhain (pronounced SAH win), the word being derived from Old Irish meaning roughly "summer's end". It marked the beginning of a new year. The ancient Celts believed that the border between this world and the Otherworld became thin on Samhain, allowing spirits (both harmless and harmful) to pass through. A family's ancestors were honored and invited home while harmful spirits were warded off. The trick or treating part evolved in the Middle Ages from the poor going door to door on "Hallowmas" (Nov. 1), the night before All Soul's Day (Nov. 2), asking for food in return for prayers for the souls of the dead. (Again, thanks Wikipedia.)
As with many holidays, our modern celebrations have lost touch with the original intent, but they were important celebrations and observations for the ancients in a world that held a lot of hardship and uncertainty for them. We've reduced a heartfelt recognition of seasonal change, charity for the poor, and homage to the dead, to fun costumes and candy, but it's still a great holiday. It's worth taking a moment to appreciate the continuum of folklore and tradition that has passed this holiday down through the generations from the Middle Ages and before to our neighborhood streets.
The Cape is a great trick or treating neighborhood. Some sections are more into it than others. Our house is on a little dead-end spur, so we don't get the full neighborhood traffic, but our block is pretty active. My only complaint is that it's a little dark and hard to see the kids coming and going. My husband always brings home some new kind of flashy light for the kids to wear around their necks each year. Flashlights are definitely needed.
I made the catastrophic mistake of buying our candy several days before Halloween this year. My husband always pressures me to buy it in advance so the good stuff doesn't run out, but that's just the point. I don't want the good stuff that I can't resist sitting around for days within my reach. Willpower is NOT my strong suit. I'm thinking seriously about wearing my dog's invisible fence collar and placing the training device next to the candy. It would deliver a significant warning zap that MIGHT be a sufficient deterrent, although frankly I'm not sure. I've put a serious dent in the Baby Ruths and Butterfingers already.
There are a couple of houses on our street that go big with their Halloween treats. One place hands out stuffed animals - the kind you would win at a carnival. When my kids were little, that made their night. Another house does the full size candy bar thing - another crowd pleaser.
Our least favorite Halloween loot: random hard candy of indeterminate age and source, Necco wafers (I love that these are old timey candies but have never developed a taste for them), stale popcorn balls (and let's face it, aren't they all stale?), pretzels, gummy snacks, the creepy orange and black wax paper wrapped chew candies, and god forbid, raisins or a toothbrush. Come on folks. It's Halloween already. I know our kids' lives are overrun with candy, but the problem is the other 364 days of the year - not the one day dedicated to sugar. Quit trying to promote healthy choices on Halloween! Save it for the day after.
Here's another Halloween issue I'm hearing a lot about this year. How old is too old to trick or treat? I hear a lot of people say that they don't want teenagers showing up at their door looking for candy. I even saw one town in Illinois that passed a law banning trick or treating for anyone over 12 years old. I guess it was seen as a public safety concern, but it seems really misguided to me. Clearly some teenagers are a problem on Halloween - smashing pumpkins and causing general mayhem, but honestly, those same kids are out making trouble the rest of the year as well.
I have no problem with kids of any age coming to my door if they have made a respectable effort at a costume (I hold the older ones to a higher standard), are polite to me and respectful of my property, and set a good example for the younger kids. In fact, I encourage it. When I was growing up, we trick or treated at least through middle school - probably through 9th or 10th grade - and the costumes got more and more clever the older we got.
And that brings me to my final Halloween "issue" of these times - the deteriorating state of costumes for teenage girls, or for younger girls for that matter. I realize nobody is forced to wear a store-bought costume, but after years of wearing meticulously homemade Disney princess costumes, my daughter rebelled and has insisted on a commercial costume ever since. It's become more difficult with each passing year to find something that's appropriate for any young lady who is not standing on a street corner. When we entered the Halloween store this year, I felt like I was in a porn shop (not that I would know :), and that was just in the teen section. We ended up with some trampy fairy outfit which I have modified enough to be presentable. Parents - if it's short, please put some shorts or leggings under it; if it's low cut, throw a decent tank top or T-shirt under it; if it has random garters?, cut them off...
Everyone have a safely spooky and fun Halloween this weekend. It really is a terrific celebration - a chance to express ourselves in new and clever ways, to have fun with our families and friends, and to get out and about in our neighborhood. I will make myself open to any wisdom from my ancestors who might be paying me a visit this All Hallow's Eve as they are "invited home" and enlist their help to ward off any bad spirits. I will particularly be thinking of my Father-in-law who we lost last year around this time and whose birthday is on Halloween. His was a pure soul that does not require our prayers, but we will honor him with our happy memories on a day when he feels especially close.