As early as I can remember, I remember loving Halloween. Parties and feasting, costumes and trick-or-treating, what’s not to love about that…
That all said, the one thing about Halloween night that I did not love as a child, was that while every one of my friends was prepping for the evening, my family had to attend mass first.
I grew up in a Roman Catholic household that did not fail the commitment to attend mass on holy days. I’m not exactly sure why, but my parents insisted that we attend the 5pm mass for All Saints’ Day on Halloween, rather than on November 1st. I was annoyed by that, I really did not listen to the mass on those Halloween nights, until one mass during my teenage years. The priest celebrating mass that Hallows’ Eve gave a beautiful homily reflecting on the celebrations of All Saints and All Souls (November 1-2) along with an introduction to Día de los Muertos.
I started cooking in earnest at a young age, so by my teenage years I was a full-blown cooking enthusiast. The idea of celebrating our departed loved ones with food brought all the celebratory feasting that I loved about Halloween and merged it with those Holy Day celebrations. It was a seasonal theme of curiosity and interest that really took root in me. At age 21, it became something I needed.
The previous spring my paternal grandpa died. It was the first time my life was touched by the loss of a close loved one. With that loss came a new kind of grief. It lingered, it punctured my days, it clouded my mind, it was difficult to manage. That year I was able to channel all of that anguish into remembrance cooking. As the years carried on, some of them pieced by additional losses, this seasonal expression became more and more valuable to me.
In my own experience, I don’t recollect anyone ever advising that I should select a Halloween costume that was realistic, practical or sensible. There were no limits to who you could be for Halloween. That was an observation that did not crystallize for me until I had children of my own.
The first costumes my children chose for themselves were to be Skeletons. Luc was four and Coco was 2. She could barely say ‘skeleton’, but she was very clear she was going to be what Luc was going to be (In the picture below where she is pointing to her own costume she is saying 'skeleton'. I can still hear her little voice saying it.) Something about that really sunk in for me.
I observed children in Luc and Coco’s cohort selecting costumes that reflected imagination, fantasy, humor and hero emulation. How often do we decide who we are going to be without barriers? Halloween suspends reality and practical thinking. Is there anything better than our children having an annual opportunity to dream on who they want to be without limitation?
What is not to love about a bag full of things your parents would not likely let you have in that quantity and variety any other day of the year?
As noted at the top of this post, I routinely over-enjoyed this part of Halloween as a child. As an adult, living in a dorm and later apartments, I would not be reintroduced to trick-or-treating until I was a first-time home owner at the age of 36.
The home we purchased was a 1930s Tudor in a neighborhood known to be ‘high-traffic’ on Halloween (I was grateful I asked around ahead of Halloween). I made sure to be prepared. I pre-loaded plastic cauldrons of candy, so I’d be ready to answer the door…
That first Halloween in that neighborhood the doorbell started ringing, I suspect, before I was even home from work. I was met with the youngest of trick-or-treaters on our doorstep when I arrived home that evening. I scrambled to open the door to begin the 'treating' with a very young Luc and baby Coco in tow.
The doorbell rang so frequently, that it became clear I should just stand at the open front door to keep things moving. It was a deluge. The narrow neighborhood street was crowded with parked cars and the sidewalks were flowing with super heroes, princesses, monsters and every sort of costume imaginable. Most notably were all the smiling faces. Smiling trick-or-treaters, smiling chaperones, smiling neighbors. We were all awash with the joy of an open community celebration.
That night, when things eventually slowed to a stop and Luc and Coco were fast asleep, the experience of that evening’s trick-or-treating sunk in. The joy of the evening was not so much about candy as it was that all doors were open to everyone. Come to my door and we’ll share the celebration together. We may not know each other, we may have different beliefs, we may not speak the same language, but we are community and everyone is welcome.
This Halloween I wish for you the opportunity to honor your loved ones, dream of who you want to be (regardless of your age) and celebrate in community!