Last night my wife and I sat out on our front porch for an hour, handing out candy to the costumed kiddies who stopped by. And it occurred to me how much Halloween has changed for the worse. For one thing, it was still light out! When we finally packed it in at 7:00, it was just about dark--roughly the point when, during my childhood in the 1970s, we would have first ventured out of the house with our trick-or-treat bags in hand. And while Ashland has designated but a single hour for trick-or-treat, we would have been out for at least two, circulating far and wide in search of candy corn, Smarties, and the always-prized Reese’s Cups. By 9:00 or so we’d come home, exhausted, to begin the process of sorting our haul according to overall desirability, making trades when the opportunity arose.
But there’s something else I noticed. Today’s costumes are far more elaborate than what we had--anyone remember those boxed costumes with the cheap plastic mask? And it appears that folks today put a lot more effort into decorating for Halloween. It used to be nothing more than slapping a few cardboard cut-outs on the windows; today one might be suspected of having insufficient Halloween spirit if one doesn’t have a few styrofoam tombstones in the front yard and ghosts-made-from-sheets hanging from the trees. Okay, most don’t go as far as I do--I use a fog machine--but certainly the bar has been raised. But here’s what’s odd--the kids seem to enjoy it all less. I remember trick-or-treating as something I engaged in with absolute glee; we’d run from house to house, breathlessly shouting "TRICK OR TREAT" at each door. But the children we saw wandering through the neighborhood were sluggish. Few even seemed to be smiling; most didn’t even give the obligatory "trick or treat" unless I insisted on it as a condition of the transaction (which I began doing about halfway through). It was as if they were going through the motions. They wanted the candy, sure, and were willing to put on the silly costumes if that was what it took to close the deal. But one got the sense that their little hearts weren’t in it; that they’d much rather be sitting at home, waiting for the candy to be brought to them.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by this. I probably would’ve been far less thrilled by Halloween if I knew it meant wandering the neighborhood in broad daylight, with my parents standing fifteen feet away. But I can’t help but find it sad; maybe next year I’ll leave the fog machine in the garage.