As a child, I remember stalking the streets until 10PM.
With a plastic jack o’ lantern in hand…
And hoards of candy awaiting me.
Those were the days. Those were the nights. Beneath the pallid streetlamps of my suburban Chicago neighborhood, I craved All Hallows Eve. In the rain, in the bitter cold, in the deep shadows through which the wind tore ragged holes, I was king.
As Darth Vader, I hunted bucket-loads of candy.
As a vampire, I hid behind oak trees and scared the crap out of the other kids.
As a demon, I shambled to my neighbors’ front doors. They didn’t know me that night. My mask earned more than a few shudders.
And when at last I returned home, belly full of candy and cheeks wet and chilled from the night, I arrived to the sight of jack o’ lanterns on the porch, candles still flickering in their bellies, dry leaves crackling at their bottoms.
I remember this…
Where have the nights gone? What happened to the crisp afternoons during which the sun dared only a few peeks through the clouds? Where are the sidewalks buried in fiery leaves, the crickets chirruping long before evening descended?
I’ve lost these things.
I want them back.
I’m middle-aged now. And while my exhilaration for All Hallows Eve has taken a twenty-year nap, it’s not completely gone. I still crave all the things October brings, but now I do it more for my son’s sake than my own. He loves his Halloweens much the same as I did. Carving jack o’ lanterns and wearing creepy masks are his domain. We light bonfires in the backyard, build mountains of candy in our kitchen, and take twilight walks to savor the coming Samhain.
He’s too small to understand it. But Halloween in the modern age isn’t what it used to be.
And somehow I’m sad.
Maybe I’m getting old.
Or maybe All Hallows has changed more than expected.
Anymore, there’s not enough of this…
And entirely too much of this…
Sometimes I no longer recognize my favorite night of the year.
I’m not against sexy things. I’m a guy like any other, and I appreciate a scantily-clad beauty as much as any man alive. But I’m glad my son (and the other neighborhood kids) aren’t caught up in what adults have made of Halloween. In fact, the thing we adults celebrate isn’t really Halloween anymore. It’s cosplay. It’s something other than what it was. It’s undefinable…and in some ways bizarre.
It’s pointless for me to rebel against what Halloween has become.
But I’ll allow myself to long for what it once was.
Long ago, All Hallows was meant to be a glorious, frightening thing. A day for driving demons and witches back into the dark. A night to celebrate the harvest, the end of summer’s warmth, and the arrival of a long, cold, and dangerous winter.
You can keep your sexy nurses and stores stacked high with cheap autumn-ish decorations.
I’ll take my…
As Halloween draws near, I’ll try to do it right. My son and I will carve our jack o’ lanterns a little creepier. We’ll picnic out in the leaves. We’ll take walks at dusk and leave our windows open while we sleep.
And when we head out to haunt All Hallows Eve, we’ll stay out a bit later than the other kids. We’ll dress a little scarier. We’ll stretch out our ghoulish fingers and grab a piece of Halloween the way it used to be.
November will arrive the very next dawn.
But our Halloween will last forever…
J Edward Neill
Specialist in spooky stories