An answer to a question about Halloween

I was asked recently by a neighbour’s kid why I liked Halloween. It was an earnest and heartfelt question. He genuinely wanted to know what it was that I liked about Halloween (and probably also why I put a graveyard in my front yard and hung screaming ghouls from my trees and put cobwebs all over my house at this time of the year). Three or four years ago I’m sure I could have answered easily with an age-appropriate response. But on this particular night and at this particular time, I was operating on three hours sleep, we were in the middle of a party, getting some sausages for dinner and I was uncomfortably aware that this little chap had very recently lost his grandmother and her funeral had been only the day before. I hesitated and stumbled and tripped over words, couldn’t find the right ones so just said, “I’m not sure. Because I’m weird, I guess?”

As soon as I said it I knew they weren’t the right words. To give a bright kid such a flippant response when he was genuinely asking what seemed to be an important question to him was just not the right thing to do. I felt terrible that I couldn’t give him a proper answer and moreso that I couldn’t even explain WHY I couldn’t give him a quick, 1 minute, nearly-five-year-old-appropriate answer.

I shouldn’t have said I’m weird for liking Halloween, because that’s not true. There’s nothing weird about liking Halloween. What I wanted to say – and what I should have said – was that I like Halloween because when you become an adult, you eventually find out that the truly scary things in life don’t just come out once a year on the night of 31 October. They’re around all the time, every day, and some people (strong, brave people) have to face true fear every day. I should have explained how, as an adult, once you’ve experienced death and sadness and the loss of loved ones (and lived through the entire range of emotions that goes hand in hand with those things – anger, longing, the sense of loss, the loss of self, the depth of sadness that can envelop a whole being sometimes for years), it feels a little bit good to be able to make a mockery of death for one night. It feels good and right and powerful to be able to say “up yours!” to death – and to cancer and diseases that take loved ones away well before their time; and to people who commit random acts of violence that kill hundreds of people and to natural disasters that destroy entire towns and cities in a matter of hours. It’s a way to celebrate the living, and to celebrate that WE are still living. And it’s also a way to remember and honour our dead. In conquering fear and death on this one night by sharing light and love with our neighbours and strangers, we are saying, “Not tonight, Death.” We can prove to death that we’re not afraid of it, that it can’t hurt us. We can show that whatever scary things go bump in the night or might jump out in front of us and shout boo or cackle wickedly in our ears, WE ARE NOT AFRAID. And we are not afraid because we are TOGETHER.

And I think that probably should have been my short, kid-appropriate answer to that question: my answer is TOGETHER. I like Halloween, no, I LOVE Halloween because it BRINGS PEOPLE TOGETHER. It encourages people to walk around their streets together, neighbours leave their lights on for each other and for strangers, they get to meet their neighbours, share lollies and treats with kids, and maybe even give them a little scare as well (because when you’re a kid (if you’re a lucky kid), the only scares really are little ones). And for the kids, it’s one night where they get to dress up, roam around the streets with their friends and get free lollies and chocolate, right? To my inner kid at least, that’s what I remember being so cool about Halloween.

There’s so many things that we ask of kids – wear this now, because I said so, be here at this time, go to this practice, tidy your room, do your homework, practice your flute, don’t forget to go to after school care today, look after your brother and sister, sit at a desk in school for six hours a day, be a good person, don’t yell at people, don’t hit your brother even though you’re really frustrated, kiss Aunty Marge even though she stinks, remember your manners when you talk to everyone – that I actually think it’s good for them to be able to have a fun night – for nothing. They don’t have to do anything in return except stay together and respect people who don’t want to participate. I think we lose that part of ourselves that remembers what it’s like to be a kid. We get so caught up in being grownups and having to be responsible and paying the bills and feeding the family and making sure Tommy’s done his homework and Gina has to be at TWO parties on the weekend AND a rehearsal on Sunday, and having to go to funerals for friends who are your age and who have kids the same age as yours, that we need to break it down and remember that part of being a kid and having a childhood is actually about having fun, with nothing being asked of you in return. When you’re allowed to just be, and to just do. Being a child.

So I will don my costume tonight. I will dress my kids in their costumes and give them their lolly buckets and instructions not to go to houses where the lights aren’t on. We will be together and have fun together and be scared and laugh and talk together. And before we leave the house I will take a moment to pause and to share a thought for those people we have lost along the way of life.

For now it’s almost time. We’re nearly there. The wind is starting to pick up, and it’s almost time for night to fall and for the darkness to gather in the corners of my house. It’s nearly time to be scared – but don’t worry, I promise it will be a good scare, it will be a SAFE scare.

So come, take my hand and let’s set off into the night and push away the darkness together. There’s plenty of time to face the real monsters tomorrow once tonight has gone and the daylight returns.

31 October 2017