For our daughter’s first Halloween at eleven-months-old, my husband and I dressed her up as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, grabbed a bucket, and wandered out into the streets of our little city. Up and down the sidewalks, we paraded our precious girl to the coos and smiles of neighbors, many of whom had never met us before. She only had two teeth, and we had agreed not to give her any refined sugar until her first birthday a month later, but we accepted candy when it was offered. Come on, I was breastfeeding and he was enduring a rough season of defeat for his favorite football team. The candy would be eaten.
The following week at a mom’s group, some of the other mothers circulated snaps of their own babies in costume, most of them propped up on couches or toddling across their own kitchens. “You took her trick-or-treating?” one exclaimed in reaction to my own photo, practically choking on her coffee.
“Well… yeah,” I mumbled, looking around for support. A few shrugs, a shaken head, and a murmur of “candy” and “so young” finished that conversation out awkwardly. I was pretty shaken up about their reaction: was taking my baby out on Halloween some huge faux pas? This moment that I’d waited for for so long had felt special just a few nights earlier. Now it felt weird and wrong. What gave?
The next Halloween approached and I sighed relief at having an almost-two-year-old who couldn’t quite say “trick or treat” clearly, but would definitely be able to eat most of what ended up in her bucket. But then I got wind of yet another trick-or-treat-shaming phenomenon among mothers. Having relocated to a quiet suburban town where neighbors claimed to be on “watch” for each other, our local mom groups were buzzing about teenagers.
“Turn your lights out and lock the front door by 9,” a neighbor warned me ahead of the holiday. “That’s when it starts to get weird.” Or, better yet, “Be mindful of the teenagers coming in from other neighborhoods. Why do they even do that?!” the gossip mill went on.
This time, I wasn’t casually contemplative or even feeling weird. I was downright pissed. So, now not only are we shaming the parents of babies who take them out on the beloved secular holiday to have fun and enjoy each other’s company, but we’re also shaming teenagers for having a night of innocent fun?
Look, I get it. Teenagers and Halloween don’t always mix. There’s toilet paper, silly string, and other stupid pranks that go on. Also — vandalism, graveyard smoking, and other things I don’t want to even think about because one day my own children will be teenagers, too.
But isn’t that precisely why we should encourage them to trick-or-treat, rather than turning them away? Isn’t it better that our neighbor’s teenagers (and their friends, and even the ones from the next towns over) see our faces, and our children’s, and feel like a part of our community? Don’t we want them schlepping pillowcases full of candy all over town and heading back to one or another’s house to swap out favorites and take selfies with their loot? Wouldn’t we prefer a sugar high to any other kind?
Here’s the thing: I have always loved Halloween. It’s a time when neighbors let their guards down and in our modern, busy, stressful lives, it’s often one of the few times a year we come face-to-face with many of the people in our zip code. As a child I loved showing off my costume to all the older people on our street, felt it was the ultimate score when someone ran out of candy and had to fish through their purse to drop quarters in our bags. I loved the camaraderie of the event, loved seeing the chunky babies dressed as carrots or ladybugs and could hardly wait to see our cool babysitter drop by with her boyfriend so I could covet what she wore and stand in awe of their cool pack of friends.
Trick-or-treating is a good thing. It is a bringing together of community. Like I said, there are plenty of Halloween traditions I could do without, those with sinister edges or negative consequences. But are we so self-important and obnoxious as a society that we’re now age-capping our trick-or-treaters? So cheap that we can’t toss an extra bag or two of candy on the belt at the register to make sure that even those kids who show up after dark get to receive our kind and welcoming smiles as well as a few delicious snacks to have in the next few days?
That same first year in our house in the suburbs, we didn’t turn our light out or lock the door at nine. Nor did we close in when we noticed teenagers, presumably from outside our immediate area, park their cars on the end of our block. In fact, when it looked like we were getting low, I hopped in my own car and did a quick Target run to re-up our supplies. And for what it’s worth, it never “got weird.”
I won’t ever forget this kid that came to the door in a hoodie and jeans. We gave him a light teasing about his costume and he explained that he’d just gotten off of work and was grabbing candy for his siblings. I don’t know — or care — if his story was true. I dumped a ton of candy in his bag and told him he looked awesome. Then we joked about how his costume made a perfect Basic High School Kid and we all had a great laugh. I’ll never see him again, probably, but I know that if he was ever in trouble and found himself near my home, he would know he could knock on my door. We had made a connection.
The truth is you don’t know anyone’s story. You don’t know if the mom trick-or-treating with her baby has been suffering from PPD and this is the first time she’s been able to pull herself together and get out. You don’t know if a high school kid is having anxiety about growing up, feeling nostalgia for childhood, or getting off a weeknight job and about to go home and get through his homework with a little nudge from a candy buzz.
You don’t know, and you don’t have to know. All you can do is your part. It’s not so much about celebrating Halloween, but about celebrating community. This might be the only time this year your neighbors all feel emboldened to walk up to your front door and knock on it. Don’t you want to see them all, to make a connection? Don’t you want to be a part their revelry without placing judgement or limits on it?
If you don’t, then do us all a favor and just leave your lights off and door locked the whole time. But mark my words: the next time I hear anyone trick-or-treat shaming, I won’t mumble my response.