I’m not sure why, but I often feel compelled to have a list of superlatives on hand at all times. We’ve talked about this a little before, so I like to have my answers prepared. I also imagine a scenario where someone darts up to me on the street like, “Vicki, quick, what is your favorite cookie? President Obama needs to know, don’t keep him waiting!” I don’t want to be the person hemming and hawing between chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin while the beloved leader of the free world taps his foot and sighs.
For as long as I can remember, my favorite holiday has been Halloween. There have been years where I sat it out, usually due to bronchitis and once an ugly break-up, but in my heart, it’s the clear winner, and here are 13 (ooh, spooky!) reasons why.
1. It is a celebration of pure imagination.
(From 2010 when I went as Tippi Hedren’s character Melanie Daniels in The Birds. Yes, I am perfectly aware how I could use that hot pink pussy bow blouse this year.)
Every part of Halloween invites creativity and getting carried away with one’s imagination. Choosing a new identity for a costume, working out how that idea will be communicated, and going out into the world as a fantasy self, a scary ghoul, or literally anything you can imagine is wildly exciting and fun for children and adults alike (or it should be). Decorations allude to the supernatural, party games evoke gross-out anatomy or enactment of fantasy superstitions, and you can enjoy all the dark and twisted parts of people’s minds without worrying for their psychological well-being.
2. In the northeast, it falls at the perfect time of year.
Admittedly, many of my feelings about Halloween come from growing up in suburban New Jersey and living in Connecticut and New York my whole adult life, so there is some subjectivity here. But generally, the weather is just cool enough to have a crispness to the air, but not so cold you can’t enjoy being outside for hours at a time. As autumn is my favorite season, Halloween feels like the peak moment of colorful falling leaves, harvest type stuff like apple-picking, and it closes the door on summer to usher in the holiday season of Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, etc. It hits at a solid point in the school semester, usually after midterms but before heavy back-half projects start becoming pressing, when there is still plenty of time to catch up before Thanksgiving break. It is practically synonymous in my mind with the feeling of leaves crunching under leather boots and the faint scent of woodsmoke in the air – that time is heavenly.
3. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
Whenever my family discusses holidays (which is with what I suspect to be abnormal frequency, come to think of it) I announce that Halloween is my favorite, and everyone sort of nods and someone says, “Yes, of course, because of the candy.” But it’s not just any candy. Reese’s Peanut Butter cups are magical sensory joy, and around Halloween you can find them absolutely everywhere, even the miniature ones wrapped in autumnal foil at like your gynecologist’s office. Think carefully – is there actually any other time of year you allow yourself to unabashedly eat a full-sized Reese’s peanut butter cup? Their packaging looks like the living embodiment of Halloween, and so many of my neighbors used to give out the single-size cups that I felt like Halloween was an elaborate Reese’s harvest. I know this has probably become far less common with the huge surge in peanut allergies, but it seems like everyone has a specific favorite Halloween candy that they’d never buy for themselves during the rest of the year. I won’t even get started on fun size Snickers.
4. The spirit of inclusivity.
(Image via Buzzfeed)
While yes, Halloween started in a religious context (like every other holiday, let’s be real) it’s one of the only ones that doesn’t intrinsically exclude anyone on the basis of culture, race, religion, ability, or creed in its modern, secular form. Yes, some people still choose not to celebrate it because of their religions (Jehovah’s Witnesses, some Orthodox Jews, etc.) but if they chose to celebrate, they would be welcome to do so. People try very hard to politicize Halloween, especially in election years, but it’s sort of like an anarchist of a holiday in that it refuses to be co-opted by any one group. Everyone can incorporate some sort of costume into their everyday lives, even just an orange sweater and sunglasses as a nod to the day. Halloween is for everyone because it is fundamentally about fun and bringing everyone together to be silly and creative.
5. Every bar and club in the city has something going on.
(Yes, of course I will be bhangra dancing.)
There is a weird myth that Halloween as an adult sucks, and every year some one of my friends reposts this Oatmeal strip as definitive proof that they are right to stay home and scoff at Halloween. Nonsense. I am very lucky because my closest friends through high school were the cast and crew of our musical theater program, so we all loved getting dressed in elaborate costumes and pretending to be other people or creatures (literally, it’s what we did for fun all year). We had great parties that often included cheesy zombie films and a lot of screaming and dancing, and that is exactly how I want to remember being a teenager. The house I joined in college threw various costume parties year-round (this may be part of why I joined) and went all-out for Halloween. In NYC, you have your choice of thousands of dance parties at just about every club, and if you wander into a random bar, you will at least find a good happy hour special and some black cat or pumpkin decorations. The sheer volume of people out in the city (and those who come in from Jersey and Connecticut to join them) reinvigorates every place, and if you keep your act together and focus on having fun, you will.
6. Unbeatable people-watching (dogs too).
You can learn so much about your friends by how they dress for Halloween. Everything from the choice of costume (or choosing not to wear a costume) to the attention to detail and execution tell you about their character in manifold ways. When you meet people in a bar, they communicate so much more about themselves on Halloween than any other night because they’ve let their guard down and let some of their true selves out. If you feel claustrophobic, you can grab a sixer and sit in Union Square to watch thousands of people’s imaginations traipse by. On the weekends leading up to Halloween, you are practically guaranteed to see some painfully adorable kids and dogs in costumes, and if you get really lucky, you can see middle aged men from your neighborhood riding the subway home at 4:30am dressed as M&Ms or Flava Flav, singing dance songs to anyone who will listen.
7. Genuinely silly entertainment.
The novelty songs are ridiculous and dated, but unabashedly fun. The pet costumes are next-level adorable. The television episodes with your favorite characters sporting Rocky Horror Picture Show garb are delightful. The movies are not scary enough to actually be haunting or disturbing (I’m thinking Elvira-level because I’m a chicken about actual horror films), and they don’t try to teach you a lesson or moralize beyond, “Watch out for dudes in hockey masks with machetes!” and, “Thank goodness the zombies are defeated!” It’s spooky in a fun way that can take its mask off at the end of the night and say, “Hey, it was all pretend, now let’s eat some candy.”
8. It’s an occasion to teach children manners or a reminder that most kids are actually really sweet and well-behaved.
My mother has become a Halloween grinch and says she hates Halloween because of all the bratty kids stomping on her porch, not saying “trick or treat,” demanding candy, then pouting when they can only take one piece and not saying “thank you.” It seems like things have changed a bit in her neighborhood, but I was raised to be almost obnoxiously polite, and I treated Halloween as a time to pop in and say hello to all our neighbors. I said “Trick or treat!” then “Hello Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So,” and I reminded them who I was if they didn’t recognize me. We talked about my costume, I complimented their decorations, occasionally they invited me in to take a picture or give me a glass of hot cider (I know, I know, but only the people we knew very well), they asked me how soccer was going or what my favorite subject was in school that year, I thanked them profusely even if they gave me a Dum-Dum or Good ‘N Plenty (ugh), wished them a Happy Halloween, and made sure to walk carefully down their steps and walkways, not stepping on any flowers or landscaping etc. It drove my brother crazy in the years when we still trick-or-treated together because he wanted to hurry up to go to other houses, but I was busy chatting and thinking I was just adorable.
It set a precedent for how to interact with our neighbors and other adults that I remembered throughout the year, and it gave me practice responding graciously to compliments on a pretty dress or answering questions about myself when it would have been easier to be shy and hide behind my brother. I try not to be a total creeper in talking to strangers’ kids, but I am always pleased when I tell a parent, “I love your daughter’s costume, that’s so creative!” and they encourage their child to say “thank you” and tell me all about it. Kids light up when you recognize their costumes (like how do you know Cinderella?!?) and it gives them a chance to safely talk to people about something sort of impersonal, but also personal enough to them that they care about it.
9. Pumpkin carving
(via Halloween Tiger Pumpkins)
It is a ridiculous tradition to scoop the guts out of a gourd, carve a face or something into it, put a candle or LED in it, and leave it outside to rot on your porch. And yet, I absolutely love pumpkin carving. I love seeing the goofy and cartoony faces on pumpkins that kids obviously drew themselves, and I love the intricately shaded, artistic carvings some of my friends do. I feel like there aren’t enough opportunities for sculpture past the Play-Doh years, so pumpkin carving is a necessary creative outlet for the generation that never learned to whittle or woodwork. And I got to use the good kitchen knives, so win-win.
10. It is the day before my birthday, which is All Saints’ Day and the start of Día de los muertos.
(via Huffington Post)
I know, this seems like a trivial point of self-absorption, especially in light of point #4 above, but my birthday is on All Saints’ Day, a beautiful Christian holiday in the western / Catholic tradition that celebrates all the saints, known and unknown. It is part of a cycle of festivals, followed by All Souls’ Day. It is generally a time to reflect on the loved ones we’ve lost and remember them. It’s a cool time of year to balance darkness and light, and to learn about things like Día de los muertos and various rituals around death and remembrance worldwide. If children are interested in learning about spirituality and other cultures, it’s a good time to discuss that, or to learn about the difference between fictional witches and Wiccans. Or to start discussing death and what it fully means, without it being associated with the specific death of a loved one. I know that stuff isn’t strictly fun, but Halloween serves an actual purpose spiritually for some, so it’s interesting to investigate if you are inclined. On a personal level, I always thought of Halloween as a laying-to-rest of the past year, and awakening with a new life on my birthday – that’s why I tend to make birthday resolutions instead of New Year’s. And it doesn’t hurt that all my friends felt obliged to share their Halloween candy with me as a kid.
11. No gifts / feasible at every economic level
(via Village Beer & Fine Wine)
It would be flat-out strange to give someone a Halloween gift or basket or money-filled card (this does not apply to my grandparents, naturally). There is no expectation that you get your boyfriend or friends anything except maybe tossing them a lollipop or showing up to a party with some pumpkin ale. Kids can put together costumes out of clothes and items from home if they don’t want to buy a licensed character costume, and they’re celebrated for their creativity. Party decorations can be as simple as tissue ghosts, a 99-cent package of spiderwebs, or nothing at all and you just say the house is haunted. Don’t want to buy candy for trick-or-treaters? No problem – just pop an empty bowl on your porch with a “Please Take Just One” sign.
12. Wholesome, dorky activities, often with historical underpinnings
Halloween is the time of year where you can go to a farm and run through bales of hay with cardboard skeletons popping out or take a hay-wagon ride and somehow it feels festive, instead of like a bunch of straw poking through your jeans. There are always great Halloween-themed activities and events at the historical preservation village near where I grew up, and they hosted educational visits for our Brownies troop with an added history of witchcraft, Halloween traditions, or spooky local superstition component to make it thematic. If you’re into running, you can find all kinds of Zombie 5Ks and child-friendly costumed walk-run events. They don’t conflict with family time or drinking time the way Turkey Trots or St. Patrick’s Day events do – Halloween is its own thing, and it’s just for fun.
13. David S. Pumpkins
Also, I found this image of a hula dachshund in an image search, and I can’t keep it to myself.
So whatever you do to celebrate the very best holiday, be safe, kind to others, and have fun! Indulge your inner child and go all-out at a costume party, or stay home and Netflix up some silly movies. Keep a vigil for the Great Pumpkin, or just scroll through your social media feeds and gush at everyone’s ridiculously cute kids. Do whatever you want – that is the great gonzo madness of Halloween!