More tricks than treats

. October 1, 2013.

Halloween is not my favorite time of year.

I think my aversion to the holiday began when I was four years old. My older sister, who at that point had a rather large mean streak, told my mother she would dress us up together for trick or treating. Great, right? She decided to dress me as a circus fat lady, complete with a mole on my face and pillows underneath my oversized clothes.

It was cute, until we got to the first house. I can still picture it—the older couple opened the door, took one look at me, and laughed. And laughed. I remember bursting into tears, running to the sidewalk and vowing to never trick or treat again. Looking back, I’m sure the couple wasn’t trying to be mean, unlike my sister, and I did recover from my trauma in time to trick or treat the following year. But that episode was a harbinger for Halloweens to come.

Scary memories

One year my older daughter dressed up as the cutest little five-year-old Cinderella you ever saw. She skipped down the sidewalks of our neighborhood and smiled about all the candy in her plastic pumpkin. That was, until we got home and she decided to help my husband hand out candy. A couple of teens with “Scream” masks came to the door, and I think she scared them as she screamed in fright. I heard it from the garage. For several years we couldn’t even walk down the Halloween aisle at the store.

My younger daughter loved everything Halloween, despite the indignity of playing Boots to her sister’s Dora for her first
Halloween. When she was in first grade she spent the week of Halloween in the hospital, however, which unfortunately meant she missed trick-or-treating. Since then, she has made up for lost time and attacked the holiday trick-or-treat custom with gusto. Still, this time of year we are always seem to recall those bad memories.

Real terrors

As an adult, part of my unease with Halloween is the glee some folks take in scaring the pants off people. I’m all for a good, healthy scare with a little bit of class. Stephen King, psychological thrillers and suspense novels have all had a place in my entertainment life. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized there is a lot of scary stuff out there that is real. Three women escaped this year in Cleveland after being kidnapped and held against their will for years in a real haunted house. It’s not unusual to hear about the grisly details of a crime spree. And there are people in the world who hate us because we live in America and will stop at nothing to harm us.

More imagination, less gore

I don’t need to be reminded of the real terror in our lives. I’d much rather see princesses and superheroes walking down the sidewalk than older kids with bloody costumes and zombie makeup. Sure, it’s make believe. But to little kids—and to more than a few grown-ups, too—it looks and feels too real.

So this year, perhaps my youngest daughter’s last year of trick or treating, I will follow her around the neighborhood. I’ll smile at the cute costumes and avert my eyes from the troubling ones. I’ll hope to see creative kids who rely less on gore and more on imagination to have a fun, sugar-filled evening.

I might even see a circus fat lady or two.