An open letter to Halloween

Dear Halloween,

It’s four days until you’re here. This is the first year that I haven’t carved a pumpkin and my costume-situation is looking pretty sparse. Plus, is decorating dorm rooms for Halloween even a thing? Long story short, this Halloween already feels different — but I think that might be worth writing about.

Most holidays can be categorized by the age that they most appeal to. New Year’s is for adults, Easter is for kids and Christmas is just an overall family holiday. But Halloween, you’re more complicated than that.

Halloween is most popular with two different age groups: five to 10 and then 17 to 22 (I’m guestimating here). The thing is, those two age brackets celebrate very different Halloweens. Think about it — for kids, Halloween is about planning the most awesome costume months in advance, going door to door, being secretly terrified of the decorations on your neighbor’s house and gobbling candy. On the other hand, the side of Halloween that we’ll likely seeing this weekend is centered on parties, alcohol and extra wiggle room for questionable outfits and decisions.

Then there’s Halloween for all other age groups. During those oh-so-wonderful middle school years, Halloween is just awkward. You’re too old/cool to go out, you’re too young to “party” and haunted hayrides/houses still mean mom carpools. Finally, there’s the adult version of Halloween, which involves millions of rung doorbells, lots of oohs and aahs over toddlers dressed up as pumpkins and several tons of candy for distribution.

So Halloween, I guess my point is that you serve as a kind of divider of different life phases. There’s the first Halloween without going trick-or-treating, the first Halloween spent at a party, the first Halloween giving out candy. In the moment, these might not seem like big deals — and maybe they aren’t. But I do think that you can be an interesting way to mark and measure our passage through life.

There are a million of other coming-of-age situations that serve the same purpose. Some of them — like learning how to ride a bike — are really pretty arbitrarily assigned. I mean, is it that big of a deal that a kid can pedal around without training wheels? Not really. I think people just like being able to set thresholds that give us indicators of where we’re at in the grand process of growing up and growing old.

Granted, this process is far from linear or universal, but sometimes it’s nice to be able to look at something like Halloween and reflect on where we’re at, where we’ve come from and where we have yet to go. Putting ourselves in the headspace of past, present and future versions of you can be pretty cool, actually: the giddiness of Halloween at age five, the terror of our first haunted house, the inhibition of an especially wild night out, the maturity that comes with owning a door to be knocked on, the pride of seeing children dressing up. You, Halloween, can help us orient ourselves on the timeline of life.

I appreciate that, along with all of the chocolate you’ve given me over the years. Be good to us this year, and kindly forgive my lack of a quality costume.


Clara Wagner