Is Halloween still a night of treats and good clean fun?


“Happy Halloween!”

Well, it actually hasn't been so happy in recent years, has it? In fact, this popular mid-fall holiday has been undergoing a transformation in the last decade or so.

What was, not that long ago, an innocent night of pranks and surprises has become a sometimes terrifying reality - especially this year.

Today, trick-or-treating - when it occurs - has the quality of a military campaign, as platoons of watchful parents mobilize children in carefully planned maneuvers, begging sanitized treats in tamper-proof packaging. Those still willing to hand out treats answer doorbells with greater trepidation.

Halloween has for centuries offered the thrill of flirtation with the dark unknown. Based in ancient religious beliefs that suggested the veil between life and death thinned between All Hallows Eve on Oct. 31 and All Saints Day on Nov. 1, it featured characters from the nether world: skeletons, ghosts, goblins, and ghouls as eerie purveyors of otherworldly fright.

Hollywood milked that fixation on fear, creating ever more terrifying characters and scenarios. In our comfy prosperity, we seemed to need bigger and bigger doses of fright to perk up.

But on Sept. 11, the U.S. experienced a terror beyond anything Hollywood could conjure. Suddenly TV screens projected bloody proof of just how fragile is the barrier between life and death. Within an hour, our sense of untouchable security was shattered and America was added to the long list of countries where fear is not imagination but reality.

Now the first Halloween of the new millennium is upon us, as the first war of the era winds up. And perhaps we are coming to realize that that it's no longer necessary to turn to fantasy to find something scary. Something intensely scary found us.

What happens when we're thoroughly scared? Most of us seek shelter in the familiar and safe.

So maybe this year is the right time to rethink Halloween, to tone down the fright night aspects. Could it be that as we share a post-Sept. 11 sense of the preciousness of life and freedom - for we can no longer take them for granted - we transform the holiday into something more playful, less dark, and perhaps tap into the innocence and joy of children, who seem to know best how to play pretend.

Sally Vallongo is a retired Blade senior writer.