I love Halloween. I love to see my children having fun in non-electronic ways, and I love to see them participating in such ancient rituals.
Here are my daughter Zhen Zhen and my nephew Augie welcoming a neighbor to the door:
My big kids all went off with their own friends this year, so only Ben (5) and Zhen Zhen (3) went with me. Ben was funny. He was nervous about some of the creepier decorations, especially the ones that made noise when you came close. He wouldn't go to a couple of houses, and he started saying he wanted to go home after two blocks. But Zhen Zhen was fearless. She marched right up to every door, princess crown on her head and pumpkin basket in her hand, said something approximating "trick or treat" and then marched on. I think she would have kept going much longer if Ben had wanted to. I don't know if she is braver than Ben or just doesn't understand that ghosts are supposed to be scary things.
I wonder if this was my eldest son's last trick or treat. He is 15 this year, and he was still really into it. He wanted to keep going all night and cover all of Catonsvlle -- he wants to roam, we joked, like a young male panther. Now that it's considered inappropriate to throw eggs and light fires, what do older teenagers do on Halloween?
But to get back to ancient history. Halloween as we know it is a fairly recent creation, but it is an amalgam of very old customs. Aggressive begging, as folklorists call it, goes back at least a thousand years in Europe, done on an assortment of holidays. One of my favorites is from the English midlands: on St. Stevens Day the young men used to kill a wren and carry it around in a little coffin, demanding contributions to the funeral. The time of year when we celebrate All Saints Day, the end of Autumn and the start of Winter, has been associated with the dead and ghosts since ancient Roman times. In some parts of Europe, going back at least to the 1600s, young men and adolescent boys used to dress as ghosts or dead souls and either march through town or go begging, and we have scattered reports of such groups of young men trying to surprise and terrify people in lonely spots.
It pleases me to see that these old ways live on in my own children, and not in a spirit of doggedly keeping to custom because that's what we do, but in pure joy.