Living out of town a few miles, it’s necessary to head into town to go trick or treating. We met up with a few other families, and made our way through the streets of Farmington, Maine, criss-crossing the street to hit every house with a light on. The town was full of trick or treaters. Families had to stock up on mass amounts of candy in order to serve all the kids that prowled the streets…robots, ninjas, hippies, zombies, skeletons, ghosts, witches…the sidewalks were so full of kids and parents making the rounds that it was sometimes like a traffic jam. We ran into friends, people were laughing, having side conversations, and the spirit of community was intense. This is how trick or treating was meant to be. One house even had a tub full of apples kids could grab or bob for. None of us had even a passing concern that a razor blade would be in one (unlike my parents when I was growing up).
Halloween is holiday numero uno in our family. We have our annual halloween party every year (this year it was on October 25), usually with 20-30 children and just as many parents. Our spooky woods in the back yard were elaborately decorated. Not only did we go out there in the afternoon to play and have a scavanger hunt with some games, but the highlight was going back there after dark. The play house, a small log cabin, had a laughing witch, a spider that descended from the ceiling, and numerous little decorations. The kids would ring the scary doorbell, go in (only four or five could comfortably fit at a time), and then go through the spiderweb netting down the exit slide. Watching all the kids laugh and have fun (and ingest lots of sugar — that’s part of the holiday spirit) was fantastic.
We start decorating for Halloween in early September. The kids started getting excited, talking about what they were going to be, and of course planning the party. This year was the third annual party since Ryan was 4 and Dana 1. Our Halloween decorations even outnumber the Christmas ones. For the last month and a half we’ve been playing Halloween songs (Wee sing for Halloween, Kidsbop Halloween, etc.) We made a conscious choice to make Halloween the “big holiday” for the kids, and so far it’s paid off.
The reason has nothing to do with religion. Some Christians eschew Halloween because of all the pagan symbols (I think they take that too seriously). Wiccans, of course, see it as the most important Holiday. For us, it’s a mix of a few things. First, we love autumn, and with our back woods play area, it’s beautiful even in late fall. Second, Christmas is about family, and our family is far away. Many Christmases we spend either alone with the kids, or going to friends. We play the Christmas carols, and talk about the spirit of the season, which is first and foremost LOVE.
But if not family, Christmas for most people is about religion and a church community. We have neither. I have strong spiritual beliefs and want my children to learn about all major religions and respect them, but I can’t with good conscience make them become part of one. Thus, Christmas is usually not the kind of social season for us that is for others. Since the university is on break, many of our friends travel, though it’s been hard for us to afford to get out to South Dakota. For me I think Christmas is personally much more meaningful than Halloween, since I experience Christmas as a time to reflect on the power of love and connections between us all, but so far the kids are too young to really understand that with much depth.
Halloween, on the other hand, also has a sense of ritual and community. It’s fun. A few places go all out with haunted walks, and there are, of course, spooky hay rides and a place we didn’t get to this year, a massive corn maze. But walking with friends on crowded streets full of laughing children on a warm full moon night, that’s priceless. When he saw the full moon, Ryan was beside himself, “Daddy, look,” he said eyes wide open with excitement, “It’s Halloween and we have a full moon!!!! Oh man, this is the best day of my life.” (That would make it about the 100th ‘best day of my life’ he’s had this year, but who’s counting?)
This weekend we also mowed the yard to mulch the leaves, raked the back woods play area, cleaned the garage so the cars can fit there in winter, and it felt like we were getting everything ready for the onslaught. The leaves are almost all fallen, though still beautiful on the ground — and who cannot help but love the smell of fallen leaves. The grass is still pretty green, but within weeks all will be covered with snow. We played on the swings and took down the Halloween decorations, realizing that this is the time of the year when the summer growth gives way to the stark and cold beauty of winter. Late fall has an eerie beauty, Halloween is the perfect holiday to celebrate that.
To top it off, the Vikings beat the Packers 38 – 26 in an exciting game which puts the Vikes clearly atop the NFC North. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”