Halloween anxiety? I don't think so. Other holidays make me a lot more nervous. We should ask "Who are YOU pretending to be?" on Valentine's Day.
When other special dates on the calendar have greater historical, cultural, social, and national resonance, why does Halloween remain the occasion upon which we Americans actually have most fun as a group?
It's not like Halloween has inspired great art. Most of your other major holidays, for example, can claim Handel, or Mozart, or Cole Porter as their balladeers. But there's no magnificent piece of canonical music that can be seen as the theme song for Halloween, not unless you consider "Monster Mash" a magnificent piece of canonical music.
Okay, here's why Halloween is the best holiday: We don't worry about it. Nobody frets about being lonely, abandoned, heartbroken, alienated, or bereft on Halloween. There is about one-one-hundredth as much emotional tension surrounding Halloween as surrounds Valentine's Day, for example, or New Year's Eve. Few wring their hands, wondering "What if I'm not asked out on the 31st of October? Does that make me a total loser?" On Halloween you get to wear a REAL mask, a comic one, an obvious one, and not just the emotional one most of us put on for other holidays.
If we agree to define major holidays by the following criteria -- 1. how many decorations are bought by households of all social strata; 2. how many unusual food items are consumed; and 3. how many non-immediate-family members must be dealt with in a friendly manner- it becomes obvious that Halloween wins on all counts.
Halloween decorations are fabulous without being heavy-handedly sentimental, pompously expensive, or in need of complicated wiring. Some women-and yes, men-have becomes Queens of Halloween Decor-I believe "Queen" is a designated category when it comes to these matters.
In the main office of the UConn English Department, in contrast, Doreen Bell, the Department's Administrative Assistant, has not only installed the requisite pictures of pumpkins and spiders, but has added-as a bonus- a bowl filled with excellent candy. In the middle of this bowl there is a green, scaly hand-hahaha, pretty funny, right?-except that when you go to grab a hand full of candy, the hand reaches down to grab back. In sonorous tones, a disembodied voice then either mutters or screeches "What are you doing?" as the scaly fingers curl over and touch the back of the unsuspecting snacker.
This item has so entirely discombobulated certain members of the faculty (my distinguished now-retired husband among them) that some of us just sit in the office during non-teaching hours in order to watch our colleagues become apoplectic when THE HAND goes for their greedy fingers. Naturally it does not stop those who want the excellent candy from clutching their miniature Mars Bars-it just makes the act more entertaining.
This leads directly to the consumption of extraordinary food items, an essential part of any holiday behavior. Forget candied yams, forget cranberry sauce, forget cheap red plastic hearts filled with bad chocolate, forget neon-colored spring chicks made from an unnaturally sticky, sweet, chewy marshmallow-like substance more appropriate for caulking shower tiles than for eating.
Halloween is THE holiday for special treats; who doesn't like that we are given permission to indulge our national sweet teeth? Okay, even I might agree that "food" might be too strong a word to describe these edible items.
Although I will admit it only after I finish this bowl of the cutest little 3 Musketeers, Snickers, and Kit Kats. They are all so small, how can they be bad for me?
Halloween is the holiday where you are supposed to knock on the door of people you don't know and expect them to give you a gift of something fun to eat or a donation for a good cause of your own choosing. You knock on a strange door after dark, someone answers, you yell a phrase (one hopes that phrase is "trick or treat"), after which the unfamiliar person smiles and gives you a reward. Halloween is all about trusting those you don't know well, whether you are knocking on their doors or opening your own to them.
What a remarkable expectation in today's world.
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Photo credit: Dylan's Candy Bar