October 23, 2015

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

A great way to nudge our kids along the road to sainthood

Cynthia DewesHalloween ain’t what it used to be. I mean, this is a time when people feel free to kill babies, whether before or after birth. They value money and the acquisition of it above everything else in life. Their attention spans are short, they equate sex outside marriage with having an actual relationship, and they have no clue that love demands commitment.

So, dressing up like hobgoblins or witches or some other mythical scary being pales by comparison with what the real villains look like in our present society. Now, kids usually don’t understand what’s going on in the adult world, thank God. They’re still back in spooky tales about headless horsemen and other unlikely characters.

It’s fun to be scared when you’re little. You get a tingly feeling from being threatened by some weird creature you’d never see in real life. You get the chills from hearing spooky noises and wails, and you like being startled when they pop out on you from an unexpected corner. Kids can afford to be scared like this because essentially they’re secure. They know they’re protected by Mom and Dad, the policeman or their teacher. They know it’s “pretend,” even when it gives them goose bumps.

We can’t protect children from the sometimes horrible realities of life, and probably shouldn’t, but we can encourage their healthy imaginations. Within the context of security and comfort, we can let them enjoy being scared.

Trick-or-treating is one way to deal with this. Somehow, begging goodies from neighbors who they think are obligated to comply gives kids the upper hand. Imagine my surprise, then, when my friend and I were little and this man at the door said, “OK, do tricks, and you’ll get the treat.”

Now, this was back in the Dark Ages when what he said did not carry the connotation it would today. So we did a little dance, and the man gave us candy. We’d seen too many movies about funny terror to worry about sinister meanings.

In Detroit, where my husband grew up, the kids weren’t as sweet and innocent as we were. There was a residence in their neighborhood where a foreign diplomat lived, served by a butler who spoke little English and knew zip about the custom of Halloween trick-or-treating.

These naughty boys (of course) once piled a newspaper full of dog droppings on this man’s front step and lit it on fire. The butler threw open the door, raging and probably afraid, cursing the children whom he suspected of the mischief. Naturally, the boys were delighted.

The treats we give out aren’t the same as in the old days. For one thing, we didn’t get a whole lot of candy so it really was a treat to get some on Halloween. People today are more health conscious too, limiting sugar to prevent tooth decay or obesity. They hand out apples or something like that, and you can imagine what the kids do with them afterward.

It’s true, parents need to be careful in ways they never used to. They should accompany the trick-or-treaters, perhaps from a little distance, and examine the treats they receive for tampering or hazards. But I think they should encourage this very American custom and keep it going. After all, it’s a celebration in anticipation of the next day’s Feast of All Saints, and we all hope that our children will join that blessed group someday.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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