The class warfare of Halloween
What’s the best thing about Halloween, the dress-up or the candy? Or is it the fact that, for that one night, you can go up to people’s houses and ring their bell and talk to them when they answer the door, and if you’re a kid you can even get demand and receive a gift? (Update: I asked my 6-year-old this question and he answered immediately: “it’s eating the candy afterwards.”)
For me it’s always been about the way social rules get thrown out the window and there’s a celebration of generosity and neighborliness. Costumes are the excuse to tell each other how amazing they look, and candy is the excuse to symbolically exchange a token of friendship.
I pretty much had kids in part so I could start going trick-or-treating again, that’s how much I love it. And yes, I went trick-or-treating well into my teens, it was embarrassing for everyone except my best friends who went with me. Near the end there we’d use the phrase “tricks or beer!” just to make fun of ourselves at being too old to do it. But it was addictive and magical nonetheless because of the human interactions and the broken rules. Thrilling.
Even when I was a grown-up and before I had kids, I was super psyched to live in Somerville, Massachusetts where the trick-or-treating was an intense activity – people would drive to my street with piles of trick-or-treaters because we had the exact right density of buildings and everyone on the block would sit outside cheering on the little groups of candy-grabbers. Later on the older kids would come, and we’d leave whatever was left of our stash in big bowls on the porch. And even when we’d bought 12 bags of candy, it was never very expensive, and money wasn’t the point anyway. The point was the freedom.
At least that was my naive opinion until a friend of mine (subject line “this question made me want to nuke connecticut from orbit”) forwarded me this recent Slate.com’s Dear Prudence advice column entitled Kids from poorer neighborhoods keep coming to trick-or-treat in mine. Do I have to give them candy?
Read the column, unless you think you might barf. It’s exactly as bad as you think it is. The good news is that Prudence’s answer is spot on and includes the phrase:
Your whine makes me kind of wish that people from the actual poor side of town come this year not with scary costumes but with real pitchforks.
To tell you the truth, I’d never seen a whiff of class warfare in Halloween until this ridiculous question. But now, having thought about what Halloween represents, as an alternative – if very brief – economic system in which we all actually share (versus the so-called “sharing economy”), I can understand why someone who intensely examines and frets about their place in the hierarchy might find some way to distort it.
Instead of reveling in the inherent rule-breaking nature of Halloween, in other words, this person is threatened by it and wants to control it and make it conform to the class-based system they are familiar with. At least that’s my interpretation, because obviously it’s not really about how much Halloween candy costs.
Or maybe that person is just a witch (or a warlock).