As a kid the most perturbing thing about Halloween was the Catholic schools got the next day off for "All Saints Day." According to my friends "Halloween" is short for evening before the holy day of the saints. In our neighborhood this meant almost everybody but my sister and I were off school. For some reason this is my most persistent memory of the day. As a general rule I did not care that much for candy and liked best those few folks who gave out nickels. You could do something with a nickel.
There were various masks available, mostly the Lone Ranger type. I don't know of anyone who didn't make their own costumes (i.e. got their moms to make it). If there was any question of safety in those days no one told us. We knew our neighborhood and the people, how far we could travel and get back "in time" (whatever that was), and you didn't bother with houses which had no light on (they wouldn't have anything for you, anyhow). By eighth-grade, interest in Halloween faded into "childish things."
It wasn't until after we were married in the mid 60s did we hear of malicious people putting malicious things in candy. By the time our own kids were old enough to Trick-or-Treat hospitals were offering X-Rays and we were watching which house the kids went to -- no longer really knowing anyone in our own neighborhood.
Part of the culture shock of moving to a small town in Indiana back in 1996 was both that Trick-or-Treating was regulated as to hours, and (more astonishingly) there were two nights to do it on. Sometimes apparently kids even got three shots at it -- or so they said. Admittedly this did not affect us much our first ten years. We lived so far off the highway we didn't actually get visitors other than our grandchildren -- who made a special trip to show off their costumes and get grandma's special treats.
Two Halloweens ago we moved into town, on a corner lot facing a main street. The result has been we get kids at both the front and back door. I kind of enjoy it, and Kay seems to love it. Somehow, though, none of the kids wants a nickel. Only the older (too old?) kids travel without parental types.
We hear that Halloween is now is second highest retail sales season. Most of this money is spent on candy and costumes for children. But an increasing amount goes to adults on what the British call "fancy dress parties." I guess some just don't grow up. Certainly no one thinks any harm in done since we all know that devils and demons and ghost and even saints aren't real, just fun stuff.
There is no particular point to all this, no insightful conclusion to be drawn. I do find myself wondering, though, is this not-about-saints-anymore thing going somewhere? In "The Screwtape Letters" British author and philosopher C. S. Lewis has lead demon Wormwood say, "If once we can produce our perfect work -- the Materialist Magician, the man, not using, but veritably worshipping, what he vaguely calls "Forces" while denying the existence of "spirits"--then the end of the war will be in sight." With all the money and all the danger and all the denial of "spirits" and demystifying of saints in 21st century Halloween, is the end of the war in sight for Wormwood?
David L. Lewis is an observer of and sometimes commentator on life who may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.