There is one holiday, and one holiday only, that I truly enjoy: Halloween.
When I announce this to others, reactions vary. Some are confused — “Whaddya mean you don’t love Thanksgiving? How can you not melt into Christmas?” Others are interested, hoping for a psychological reveal — “Oh, yea? And why’s that?” Still others, and I regard such folks as my people, nod knowingly. They, too, find the cultural phenomenon of “the holidays” to be exhausting or hollow or hypocritical. They, too, would rather take a few precious hours to read a book than to hang ornaments on a dead tree. They, too, would prefer to have some time to themselves rather than sitting at a table making small talk. They, too, can see how bizarre it is to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus when they, themselves, are agnostics or atheists. They, too, can acknowledge a fundamental disconnect between feeling outrage about a pipeline in North Dakota and eating turkey to commemorate the harmonious relationship between white folks and Native Americans. These people, my people, are okay with questioning the easy acceptance of tradition.
But I kvetch about the holidays too much, I fear. When it comes to this topic, people either get it, or they are threatened by it. Thus, I’ll simply say this: last night, as we wandered around the dark neighborhood together, I was very genuinely happy to be with kids, Byron, and my cousin Eric and his wife Raquel. Nobody was spending hours basting, chopping, and grabbing extra chairs from the basement, and nobody felt pressure for things to be “nice.” Some of us had hoppy beers stashed in our pockets; some of us had two heads; some of us felt energized by the hustle of costumes and kids and flashlights and families, all coated by the fine mist in the air, all fueled by sugar and eager gimme.
Then there was a beautiful moment, somewhere around 44th and Robinson Street, when Raquel whispered, as the kids moved from one house to the next, “This is all I need for a holiday — not all that other stuff, you know…that comes later.”
I contemplated laying a wet one on her.
Halloween feels honest to me. Its ancient roots of rejoicing in the harvest and chasing each other around a fire and getting wild in the dark smack of real stuff. So yesterday was good.
- A few weeks ago, Paco wondered if he even wanted to go trick-or-treating this year. Perhaps he was getting too old. Immediately, I reminded him that his younger cousin, Signe, still needed company. She and her family live in the country, so they come to our neighborhood each year — and Sig needs her compatriots. Most certainly, I guilted the kid into participation (a hallmark of every holiday!). Yet, when the time came, as they trotted from house to house marveling at how heavy their pillow cases were getting, Paco announced, “I don’t think I’ll ever get too old for trick-or-treating. I’m going to keep doing this every year, forever.”
- Paco was extremely excited about the ease and coolness of his costume choice. At school, they’ve been reading S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, and he is loving it. It was a no-brainer, therefore, to dress up as a greaser in the style of Ponyboy and Sodapop.
- Dads can do hair just as well as moms can. I mean, IN CASE THE WORLD STILL WANTS TO ACT LIKE IT’S THE LADIES WHO HAVE TO HANDLE THAT STUFF.
- Because the kid dressed up as a greaser, we invested in some bubble gum smokes as an accessory. By the end of the night, all three kids had cigarettes hanging from their mouths, and introducing kids to smoking is just good fun.
- Allegra, in trying to decide how 16-year-olds can still celebrate the big night even though they’re not interested in trick-or-treating, yet they’re too young to go out and slosh around at a rager, decided to gather her crew at our house for some treat-making. All night, girls trickled in and out, making punch, eating pizza, enjoying homemade Pumpkin Spice lattes, laughing, posing, and turning out a very fine graveyard dessert. The feel of them in the house made my heart grin.
- I took bags of popcorn to my afternoon class and became, for a hot thirty seconds, each student’s favorite teacher. Truisms: college students are hungry, and college students like free stuff. There was an anticipatory energy in the room — they had plans once they were done with their schoolin’ — but eating popcorn settled them into some focused crunching and writing.
- It’s always a good day when I have a beer in my pocket.
- At one house we went to, they’d strung a ghost from a tree and dropped it on unsuspecting visitors. My head spends most hours in a digital world, so the sheer 1970s vibe of this trick was beautiful — reminding me that a sheet and a rope will always be more fun than a puppy-dog filter.
- Because I zipped from class to a meeting to home and into the night-time whirl, a sheaf of activities from the popcorn-eating class sat in my work bag, awaiting my attention. When, at 10:30 p.m., the boys went to bed, I sat at the dining room table and graded. As I read answers to discussion questions, I listened to a posse of teenage girls in the next room giggle and talk about colleges and teachers. Eavesdropping, I fell a little bit more in love with each one of them.
- At midnight, I took the hand broom to the front door and swept up the evening’s detritus: blades of grass, twist ties, candy wrappers, smears of dirt, crunched leaves. With each swipe of my hand, I delighted in evidence that the house I live in isn’t pristine, untouched, sheltered. Dirty feet tromp in, bringing with them life and energy and fire and zest and laughter. People toss their coats on a chair, carry their bags into the kitchen, unpack their loads, ask questions, chatter about how tired they are, ask where we keep our spoons. When they leave, the house falls quiet, yet a faint imprint of the bustle remains. They were here. Now they are gone. And I am sweeping.