I adored Halloween as a small child. Then when I got a little older, my love for the holiday faded. By college, when Halloween had become “Dress Like a Sexy Zombie Day,” I sort of hated Halloween. But even after my love of Halloween had faded, I always retained fond memories of what Halloween once had been to me. I remember singing a Halloween song in first grade music class and feeling certain that there was some sort of magical power in the notes of the song—something that called forth “Halloweeniness” from the beyond. I remember a game about a witch’s cauldron that took me away to a world where ordinary plants and potions had magic powers. I loved the smell of melted wax and warmed pumpkin flesh as I stared into the flickering mouths of our jack-o-lanterns. And the way the smell of burned matches and the sharp, cool October air mixed with those smells in a way that was singularly Halloweeny. I made cut-out ghosts that we hung on our walls, and I could imagine that my construction paper creations were truly spirits with powers to access a world beyond. It was all so profoundly magical. The excitement I felt was not just about the day itself; it was an excitement borne of a connection to the inaccessible. And even if the magic we’re celebrating relates to spooky things, we can imagine that there is a nonmalevolent side to that magic as well.
Now that I have a small child of my own, I’m reliving my childhood Halloween excitement. My son lives for Halloween. Remembering my own experiences with Halloween, I know something of what he’s feeling. As we drive past the “Skeleton House,” where he contemplates the spooky decorations on our way to school, or make spooky decorations of our own, I see a spark in his eyes that melts my heart a little bit. Although I’m maybe too old and jaded to be open to the wonder and magic of the day, I remember what it was like at his age. This holiday, with all of its attendant gruesome traditions, triggers wonder and hope and a belief in something beyond the ordinariness of our daily lives. It takes the things that would normally terrify us and makes them delightfully magical. Happy Halloween!