When I was a kid I loved Halloween, and I still appreciate it today, but mostly from a nostalgic perspective. It was tough for me to let go of trick-or-treating when I became too old for it, and I’ve given a lot of thought to why that is. What is it exactly about the holiday that I enjoyed so much?
As a kid, I loved all holidays, while as an adult most of them have lost their luster, but Halloween is the one I mourn the most. For children – or at least for those who come from reasonably high-income families – holidays represent a lessening of responsibility. When you’re a kid, Christmas is the best time of year because you get lots of presents, you get a significant amount of time off school, you get to eat delicious food, and perhaps enjoy other fun traditions, like taking the After Eight rule seriously.
But now that I’m middle-aged and have long since left home, these traditions have faded away and a lot of the general fun of the holidays is gone. Now that I’m financially independent I can buy myself anything I want and gifts just don’t give me the same feeling they did as a kid. For children, receiving presents is the only time they can indulge in the age-old instinct of acquisition. (Not to get all Ferengi on you, but it seems self-evident that all humans love accumulating wealth, whether that means money or anything else.) But as adults, we can acquire whatever, whenever we want, and gifts are often too far off the mark of our actual desires to really be satisfying. For me at least, gifts are actually a burden because they make me feel indebted to the giver, even though I’ve received something I never wanted in the first place. And holidays in general are similarly burdensome.
For adults, holidays represent an increase in responsibility; the exact opposite of what they mean for kids. This is especially true for people with children of their own, but there are obligations even for those of us who are child-free. I hold no animosity towards my family, but being forced to visit their dog/cat infested houses, and endure their ideas of festivities, which are starkly different from mine, isn’t really all that fun. It’s not torturous or anything (though I know for some people it is) but it’s not something I would choose.
So while Christmas was exciting as a kid, it’s now mostly annoying. Easter meant a fun egg hunt followed by chocolate but now it means eating food I dislike while wondering why my non-Christian mother gives a damn about the resurrection of Christ. Thanksgiving never really meant much beyond a day off school but now it means a day off work to recover from interaction with my family. In many ways, special occasions are now occasions I resent.
Not so with All Hallows’ Eve because there are no familial obligations that come with this spookfest. When I was a kid Halloween meant the most fun ever: eating a ton of candy and the adventure of acquiring said loot. As younglings, my brother, my best friend, and I travelled our entire neighbourhood so far into the night that houses started to angrily turn us away. Passer l’Halloween (Québécois trick-or-treating) was a ritual I looked forward to all year round. I agonised over what costume to wear and challenged myself to collect so much candy that it would last all year. Now I can simply go to the store to satisfy my candy cravings, but it’s just not the same, is it? There’s something visceral about going door to door, asking for a thing, nay demanding it, and then successfully getting it. I understand intellectually, that when I go to work, I’m doing the same thing: putting in time and effort to get something else in return. But I don’t feel it emotionally since the result is removed and feels intangible. Holding out your
candy bag massive pillowcase and instantly being rewarded with kid currency feels much more immediate and substantial.
And then there’s the dressing up. Recently, I suspect as a result of watching Heroes of Cosplay, my partner decided that cosplayers are necessarily insecure. According to him, cosplayers love putting on costumes so much because they are trying to escape their real lives, trying to escape themselves. I don’t entirely agree, since I’m sure there are those who do it just for fun, but I see his point. I even relate to his point. I spent most of my life hating my reality, and in some ways hating myself, and often lived in a fantasy world. Dressing up for Halloween was a chance to disappear into the what-if. Today I’m much more confident in who I am, and genuinely enjoy most of my life, so costumes just don’t thrill me the way they once did. I also believe that everything we wear, every day, is in some ways cosplay. If gender is a social construct, then wearing cute dresses and high heels at work indulges any need for dress-up I might have.
I know a lot of adults still enjoy Halloween, but I’d guess these are party people. I don’t drink alcohol, and I don’t generally enjoy social events, so while I tried to force the issue as a young adult, and attended many disappointing Halloween parties, trying to have fun, and usually failing, I am now past that point. I just need to accept that Halloween is no longer my holiday.
Tonight I will look out my window and watch children pass Halloween. I will place a couple pumpkins outside my door and have candy ready for them, in case any are patient enough to brave my three-storey walk-up. I will feel nostalgic and somewhat sad. I will remember how much joy I used to feel while trick-or-treating and I will know that I will never feel that specific joy again. I will remind myself that I now have new pleasures, like going out to eat at new restaurants, hiking in the woods, and snuggling up on the couch with my partner to watch sci-fi shows. I will wait for my partner to get home from accompanying his trick-or-treating niece and he and I will eat the candy he stole from her. I’ll know that even though I’ll never get to enjoy Halloween the way I used to, ultimately this is a good thing because now I can enjoy much higher quality sweets than the crap most people give out, and I’m secure enough not to feel the need to dress as somebody I’m not.
Me and my siblings, Halloween 1990.