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Matthew Stokes: A Halloween humbug learns to love the holiday

By MATTHEW STOKES, Alabama Daily News Columnist

Let me make a little confession.  I don’t like Halloween.

It’s not really a moral thing.  We’re far enough removed from the days of the Druids that I can overlook the day’s mostly pagan origins.

It’s just such a hassle. There’s buying the costumes, and the wailing and gnashing of teeth each afternoon when the costumes have not arrived in the mail.  Then of course there’s the rationing of candy and the nightly fights over who has had too much candy before bedtime. I had a great time on Halloween as a kid, as I’ll describe below, but as an adult, it’s all exhausting.  Perhaps I should dress up like Mr. Scrooge for Halloween.

All the same, I’ve come to the pretty firm conviction that the night makes for a great opportunity to reconstitute some civic bonds with neighbors and friends.

The newer trend of trunk or treats is fine, particularly in rural areas where trick or treating isn’t really feasible.  I spent most of my elementary years in rural Lauderdale County. We always had a festival at church on Halloween, partly as a ministry outreach but also because if we couldn’t get candy in the church gym, the chances we would get any candy at all were pretty much nil.  We could have tried to trick or treat but that have meant Mom or Dad driving us to each and every house, where upon we would have walked a quarter mile up someone’s dusty, or perhaps muddy, driveway. The one-stop fun of the old church gym was far more efficient, and it became a pretty great community event.

Where it is possible, trick or treating is great way for neighbors to see one another in a festive setting, removed from the hectic day to day of carpool, practice, and other over-scheduled activities.  No neighborhood is ever perfect, but I’ve walked through various neighborhoods with my own kids and seen homeowners enjoying chili around a fire pit while kids roamed free on the streets. It’s easy enough to see how those folks are pretty happy with their day to day existence, and it also explains why many of those children – again, from varying demographic groups – display a strong self-confidence.

Where your local geography allows, Halloween strikes me as a perfect time to let your children go.  Light the grill in the driveway and share hot dogs with the neighbors, but let the children roam for candy with friends old and new.  Greet the other kids in your neighborhood. As you know those kids, and your own children learn of their own adult neighbors, everyone benefits.  Everyone feels security and strength and, yes, even happiness.

Too often we think of helicopter parenting as a matter of showing up at job interviews with our college graduate kids, but we can also coddle our children by overscheduling them and walking beside them in perpetual fear that some great disaster is waiting for them if we turn our heads in the other direction.  This is an important point laid out by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt in their new book The Coddling of the American Mind.  The younger our kids are when they begin to roam, explore, and figure things out on their own, the more confident and secure they will be as they grow into adulthood.

Of course I must relate this back to politics.  Two points of order. First, the situation I am describing is nonpartisan. Anyone can and should let their kids enjoy the night, and adults should take advantage of the time to put away the smartphone (after pictures, of course) and enjoy meeting and greeting neighbors.  

Invite friends who don’t live on a crowded street to join you. Our hearts are warmed in the good company of others, and we build strong communal bonds at times like this. Second, the anger on both the right and left is partly due to loneliness and isolation. A wise friend reminded me recently that anger is often a secondary emotion masking deeper concerns.  Studies show that Americans of all ages feel more isolated than ever. It is not unreasonable to assume that Americans are seeking meaning and purpose in politics as they cannot find that purpose elsewhere.

This is not to suggest that our political struggles are not real and important.  They are both, and at times, they are worthy of intense passion, even anger. I have felt the surge of passion that comes with speaking out an important issue, but those issues must not overwhelm the kinship we share with neighbors and friends.  We simply must find a way to overcome the intensity of this moment and share our lives with those nearest to us. President Abraham Lincoln was right in his first inaugural address when he implored the nation. “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.”  

On a night of ghosts and goblins, it may seem silly to invoke patriotism.  Nevertheless we should embrace any opportunity to join with our neighbors in a time of civil fun.  Let our kids roam free for a couple of hours as they slowly work their way towards a confident adulthood.  It is these little things, all of which seem so passing at the time, that build the fabric of our lives together and make us great.  

We should enjoy nights like this, however silly their origin, and then pause to look towards greater holidays to come.

Matthew Stokes is a writer living in Birmingham. Follow him on Twitter @yellingstopAL or email him at [email protected].



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