Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Trick or Treat

Halloween night had great weather here in Houston.  The sky was clear, the air brisk, with a slight breeze, and the temperature was just a little bit chilly.  It was so awesome that Samantha and I decided to drag some chairs out to our porch and join our two jack-o-lantern’s and hand out candy.
In between the hordes of costumed children and patient parents, I couldn’t help but reflect on recent news articles I had read detailing certain group’s religious objections to celebrating Halloween.  Most of the claims centered around an inappropriate focus on death and the macabre, the influence of the Devil through costumes, and the idea that participants are joining in a millennia old pagan tribute.
Sure.  Great.  Whatever floats your boat.  I am definitely not here to argue your religious beliefs.  What I would like to point out, from an entirely secular point of view, is the perspective I took from my Halloween night experience.
For a long time, it has seemed to me that the idea of “neighborhood” is dead.  Growing up, everyone seemed to know each other, adults and kids alike.  I remember my parents having driveway parties, where anyone who wanted to stop by was welcome.  There was a camaraderie amongst the inhabitants of Clover Hill that I haven’t seemed to find here in my neighborhood.
But I could feel it Halloween night.
As the parents herded their kids from door to door, I met so many friendly people I had never even seen before.  Regardless of this holiday’s roots, our small neighborhood was transformed from a series of isolated homes and families into a community.  Groups mixed who had never mixed before, families walked with families simply because they happened to be on the same side of the street.  People talked, laughed, and had fun.  “Neighborhood” was alive again, if only for a night.

I couldn’t also help being struck by the politeness of it all.  As we sat in our chairs, handing out sugary goodness to princesses, vampires, cowboys, and an army of Buzz Lightyear characters, our candied generosity was constantly met with a prompt and honest thank you.  Even the recent parents escorting their newly talking toddler would encourage the costumed cutie to say “Trick or Treat!” and then “Thank You.”
Even the un-costumed pre-teens were polite.  All day I had practiced how to deliver the line - “Dude, you have to EARN my candy” - but I couldn’t do it, they were just so nice.
In my secular American experience, Halloween is the only holiday where complete strangers are willing to offer a gift of candy to young people who knock on their door.  How awesome is that!?!?  During the traditional gift giving holidays of Christmas and Easter, our gifts tend to be reserved for our families and friends, maybe our co-workers, and sometimes to charities, but do we open up our doors and give to complete strangers?  
I have never thought of Halloween as a giving holiday until this year.  It presents an opportunity for a community to grow together, for parents to instruct their young ones how to receive a gift with thanks, and for those who understand the lesson to put it into practice.  
For me, while I certainly loved the weather, the absolute perfection of the night had nothing to do with how cool it was.  It had everything to do with the amazing atmosphere my neighbors created around me.

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