What Really Makes Halloween Scary

It brings out the ghoul in my neighbors, who keep their lights out and their doors locked against the marauding hordes

The leaves are turning, the nights have a hint of chill, the pumpkins have ripened. That means my favorite holiday is almost here. I love Halloween. That’s partly because it sits tucked up against my birthday, so it always seems as if people are celebrating, well, moi. But it’s also because Halloween, unless you’re Henri David or Martha Stewart, is a holiday without a lot of fuss and bother. There isn’t any special meal to cook. (We usually order pizza.) Decorations are cheap and quick; you carve up a jack o’lantern, you toss some phony cobwebs across the shrubbery. You get to dress up as somebody else. Reese’s Cups are involved. And you get to scare little kids with impunity. Let’s face it, what could be more fun than scaring little kids?

But I’ve noticed more and more that the fun is falling out of The Big ’Ween, drained by Glenn Beck-ish fear-mongering. In my neighborhood, it’s harder and harder for kids to find the porch lights that signify “Handout within!” My neighbors keep their houses dark on Halloween night, huddling inside with the doors firmly locked. I’ve heard their complaints. They say the kids who come trick-or-treating are too old, or too rude, or too greedy. They grumble that the kids don’t even make an attempt at costuming, and that they travel in packs. They say they’re scared to open their doors; they don’t want teenagers seeing their big fancy flat-screens and getting ideas. [SIGNUP]

Towns and neighborhoods don’t help matters when they try to dictate when Halloween will happen, moving it to a weekend or book-ending it between five and seven p.m. You can’t control Halloween. It’s all about the things in this life that we can’t control: death, the hereafter, things that go bump in the night. It’s the one time, out of an entire year marked by celebrations of holiness and joy and light, that we venture over to the dark side, stick one foot in the grave and shiver at its chill — then yell “Boo!” and laugh.

It’s a holiday, really, of defiance — of staring straight at what terrifies us and then making the most intimate, most familial of gestures: feeding it, the way a mother feeds a child. No wonder kids despise those who insist on handing out granola bars or raisins. Even a 10-year-old knows you can’t buy Death off with crap like that. You have to pummel it with Peanut Chews, fight it with Fireballs, beat it with BB Bats.

Which makes it all the more imperative that we not give in to the darkness by putting out our porch lights and cowering in terror of … children. They’re just kids out looking for a morsel of sweetness in a world that seems increasingly unwelcoming and cold. They have a kid sister in tow, or maybe a kid of their own. They have costumes on, or don’t. They have hope in their hearts, and an empty plastic pumpkin, or a pillowcase, or just a plastic bag. However little you have, they have less. This year, surprise them. Open the door and hand your worst nightmare a Snickers bar.