When I was a kid, Halloween was one day.
It was a glorious day to be sure. But it was one day – in the life of a busy, happy family with six children and two working parents.
When Halloween fell on a weekday, there was a parade through the classrooms so you got to wear your costume to school. I remember this as a little stress-inducing around our house, as it meant you had to have some idea of what you were wearing at least a few hours in advance.
One year, I had it all figured out though. I had spotted my blue princess costume at Rite Aid. It was one of those poly-plastic numbers with tie-backs, styled like a patient’s hospital gown. It came with a plastic mask with nose-holes, a slit where the mouth was so you could poke out your tongue, and an elastic string around the back that my brother insisted on snapping from the moment I tried it on. My sisters and my brother were all horrified that I would even ask our mother to pay good money for the coveted blue princess costume at Rite Aid. My parents were probably just happy that I was interested in something girly for a change. One of my favorite recess activities at the time was arm wrestling boys. When my mom presented me with it, I knew, even then, that she was giving in solely because I was the baby. And I was okay with that.
That Halloween night, it was cold and my mom buttoned my winter coat over my costume. Two blocks into candy gathering, and more snaps from my brother than I could tolerate, my face was the only warm part of my body and I had to relocate my blue princess mask to the top of my head. The next year I was a football player.
Just like my kids, my siblings and I always complained that we had to go to school the next morning. If traipsing around the neighborhood in the dark wasn’t exciting enough, people gave us candy too. It didn’t matter how this tradition originated, it was genius – plain and simple.
Back then, of course, Christmas was the only holiday that had its own season. Halloween, like I said, was just one day. Parents didn’t really need tips, or a philosophy, or a strategy to make it through one day. You didn’t have to plan a route through Target in early September to sidestep windsock ghosts, talking witch’s cauldrons, and $40 Ironman costumes. You didn’t have to sew, or know a seamstress, or own a glue gun to outfit your kid for Halloween. You didn’t have to feel like a sub-parent for never even attempting to bake a mummy cake or for refusing to buy candy corn-flavored Oreos.
And you certainly didn’t have to come up with a strategy for systematic candy consumption that preserved dental integrity, maintained healthy body image, and most importantly, did not result in your 2-year-old baby chick blowing chunks all over her crib. Two nights in a row.
So what do you do with all the candy? I’ve spent years trying to figure that one out. I found fire stations and nursing homes that accepted donations of Halloween goodies. I discovered there were teens temporarily holed up at emergency shelters – clearly in dire need of fun-sized Snickers bars and Skittles to turn their lives around. Now I hear about parents who ask their kids to trade in their candy to the “Halloween fairy” in exchange for a toy. And they fall for it! I’m also intrigued by the dentists’ offices that have candy-for-cash programs to entice kids to give up their loot.
But here’s what really gets me about Halloween: I remember lugging a pillowcase full of candy up the front porch steps after an honest night’s work; I can picture the great cascade of treats spilling out on the family room floor; I can almost hear my brother mocking the neighbor who insisted on giving out Boston Baked Beans candy year after year. But for the life of me, I can’t remember eating a single piece of it.
So take heart parents of young kids about to hit the streets: While candy might be king for one day, it isn’t the stuff memories are made of. I expect my kids will feel the exact same way long after their trick-or-treating days have come to an end.