Halloween back in the 1960s rivaled the popularity of Christmas Day among children like me who lived in my tree-lined neighborhood located on Detroit’s Westside. Our costumes were far from the elaborate kinds that have become commonplace in the 21st century but for me, being a ghost, a vampire or Frankenstein was just fine. What mattered most was a constant flow of candy showered on us as we shouted, “trick or treat.”
After making our rounds, the children in my community would gather at a specially-chosen porch to review our collected goodies and make a few, hotly-debated trades. Then, with adult supervision, we’d make our way to the street where we’d jump into a huge pile of leaves — already raked and stacked high. Eventually, someone’s parent would light a match so we could watch the leaves burn — a pungent smell overtaking the air and tickling our noses as the embers drifted up, up and away.
Then, almost without warning, something changed — or perhaps more accurately, people changed.
In the aftermath of the assassinations of Kennedy and King, the murders of Malcolm, Medgar and presidential hopeful Bobby Kennedy and the demise of flower children and love fests, adults seemed to become more angry, hateful and more inclined to hurt those around them — even children like me.
It was no longer safe to go trick-or-treating — not with people lacing candy with poison and putting razor blades and stick pins in shiny, red apples. Children were harassed or even kidnapped while walking formerly-safe avenues that had once been the traditional pathways traveled by little boys and girls during their annual candy collecting excursions.
And so, Halloween became a memory from my childhood — an experience that I could only describe for the generations of children who would come after me.
Years later, as I entered the decades of my 30s, 40s and then my 50s, I realized that the beloved holiday of my youth had become a celebration that adults, not children, looked forward to and for which they — that is, we — prepared with great fanfare. Candy had given way to alcoholic beverages and brownies replete with samplings of “Mary Jane.” Simple, homemade costumes had been replaced by far more elaborate and expensive trappings.
Meanwhile, children, for whom Halloween had traditionally been such an annual day of excitement, anticipation and loads of fun, have been eliminated from the equation, becoming an afterthought in the majority of America’s cities and suburbs — both large or small.
Looking back over the years of my youth, I can’t help but remember how often I longed to be bigger than I was, older than I was — thus, free to engage in the many mysterious activities that were forbidden fruit for desirous children like me. But now, with more wisdom and experience — provided with the elusive bite of the “apple” on more than one occasion — I sometimes wish I could have those days back to relive just one more time.
As for annual holidays like Halloween, it appears that in our exuberance to shed the ways of our parents and grandparents, we have ushered in a new age, changing the parameters that defined such yearly festivities — and not for the better.
We have “advanced” as a nation to a point where our children can no longer safely frolic freely along the streets of their neighborhoods in their quest for chocolate bars or sweet-and-sour melon balls.
Sorry kids. Halloween now belongs to adults — some eager to become children again.
But for many adults, Halloween has been snatched away from children’s possession because in their hatred of “the other” and their determination to secure selfish whims, they refuse to allow our youth to relish in and enjoy their few years of innocence.