What’s the scariest thing about Halloween? Adults.
The holiday used to be a terrific, almost unbelievable deal for kids: Dress up, walk around, and get free candy — and have fun doing it.
For young children, the holiday sounds like something out of a Seinfeld routine.
“Wait, let me get this straight. I can go to any house — even strangers — and they’ll give me free candy?”
“And I can eat as much of it as I want to before my parents find out how much I have?”
“What’s the catch?”
There never was a catch.
When I was a kid, we trick-or-treated for UNICEF — collecting not just candy for ourselves but pennies for children in far-off lands. It seemed so valiant and noble.
There was always the rumor that certain nasty, kid-hating grown-ups would put razorblades into the apples they distributed to trick-or-treaters.
(But what kind of self-respecting kid accepts an apple on Halloween, anyway?)
Then adults tore into Halloween and left it, well, hollow. It was a two-pronged attack.
First, you had parents who somehow discovered the holiday had its roots in paganism.Can’t have children celebrating paganism.
The approach sounds a little like the Reverend Flanders in “The Simpsons,” but it took root. For millions of kids, Halloween became an empty candy bag.
But the second thing adults did, which is even more unforgivable, was co-opt the holiday for themselves.
Halloween became an event, an excuse to go to work in costumes, have parties, and otherwise neglect the solemn duty of all adults on Halloween, which is to provide children with all the Hershey’s kisses and mini Butterfinger bars their candy bags and dental bills could allow.
Why did Halloween become such a popular event for adults?
One reason may be this: Statistics tell us that fewer Americans identify with traditional religion than ever before in our nation’s history. A study analyzed by University of California Berkeley and Duke University found that the percentage of people who don’t consider themselves affiliated with a religion increased from 5 percent to 20 percent between 1990 and 2013.
“Adults have hijacked Halloween in many ways,” said Lynnette Wilhardt, a licensed therapist in Costa Mesa, California. “It is difficult to find children’s costumes in the Halloween stores, as they now cater to adults. Perhaps this is due to adults moving away from religion and religious congregations and celebrations. Adults now use Halloween as a way to congregate — or is it just an excuse to party?”
People need ritual. They need and want bonding experiences. Halloween — sadly — seems to fill a yawning gap.
Maybe if more adults could find their way back to the religion of their childhoods, or even the religion of someone else’s childhood, Halloween could return to the hands of the people who love it, crave it, and enjoy it the most: kids.