The month of October, for some people, means only one thing: Halloween. With candy corn lights, a 1920s flapper costume and a trip to the local orchard planned to choose the perfect pumpkin, I am among those people.
Along with the National Retail Federation’s estimated 157 million Americans, I will continue my tradition of being a sucker for Oct. 31 this year. At the root of my excitement, primarily, is a new addition for me; I will actually pass candy out to trick-or-treaters for Halloween 2015. Having grown up on a side street with no sidewalks and few street lights, we never got many trick-or-treaters at my house, especially by the time I had aged out of the activity. Six years went by of college and apartment living with annual viewings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and lots of fun dressing up, but something was missing, something that could only be found in the joy of giving Kit Kats and Reese’s cups to tiny persons clad in princess, dinosaur, superhero or adorable insect attire.
But this year, my boyfriend, who lives in an apartment complex crawling with children, will be off work in time to give out candy. His bemused smirk told me he had not expected my eagerness to participate when he told me the news.
Seriously, my excitement is at an irrational level.
The only conclusion I can reach is that my own memories of Halloween as a child have fed my thrill as an adult. Although I plan to be sweet to the kiddos – complimenting the cute costumes and convincingly feigning fright at the attempted scary costumes as I dole out generous handfuls of candy – my favorite memories involve fear, mystery or suspense.
The anticipation of Halloween night brought mystery in itself – clocks striking midnight, clouds drifting past a full moon, fog-covered cemeteries, urban legends coming to life. Being a tomboy in a straight-laced Christian household, my yearning to wear a scary costume instead of a cute one was almost always thwarted, so much was my joy when, while trick-or-treating, we came to houses enshrouded in terror.
A solitary porch light illuminating fake spiderwebs and decaying miniature coffins was enough to get my heart thumping, but a motion-sensor ghoul or werewolf that shrieked at me right before a pale and fake blood-smeared homeowner opened the door was enough to send me over the edge. And I loved it. Bonus points if the house was dimly lit or had creepy dolls or trinkets sitting out, instigating my tales of the “real” haunted house to my friends for months.
Psychologist and former president of the American Psychological Association Frank Farley told WebMD that some people – or children, like me – are fascinated by horror. “They’re interested in the unusual and the bizarre because they don’t understand it and it’s so different from our everyday lives,” Farley said.
Leon Rappoport spoke to WebMD specifically about children’s eagerness for fear on Halloween.
“They’re being given the license to probe at least the superficial anxieties about magical transformation, which, in the imagination of a child, are not completely foreign,” Rappoport said. “The experience provides a sort of relief in much the way that an exorcism could be said to do.”
Speaking of exorcisms, as an adult, the fear on Halloween for me has evolved into what I consider to be more realistic threats, such as demon possession or angry souls retaliating against a housing development being built atop their final resting place. But does this stop my imagination or alter my choice of movies in October? No more than it did as a child.
If you choose to celebrate Halloween, remember that you’re creating a memory for a child that could stem into adulthood. So break out those plastic skeletons, glowing red eyes, rusted cauldrons, spooky sounds CDs; hide in the bushes and jump out at trick-or-treaters; answer the door in character according to your costume.
Or just send your costumed kids my way. It’s going to be a Halloween to remember.