I’m quite ambivalent about Halloween. I don’t hate it. After all, what’s to hate about pumpkins and princesses and free candy? But neither do it I love it. What’s to love about roving gangs of middle schoolers, shrieking freedom at dusk in the streets, or five year old bloody Freddy Crougers? My own experience of trick or treating as a child was generally positive. We canvassed the neighborhood including the convent and rectory of our local Catholic parish, then headed to my aunt’s house where the cousins (fourteen of us) compared and traded candy. It was my gandpa’s birthday and we had chili. That was about it, but there was something comforting about the whole ritual.

A friend of mine recently blogged about the NFL and Liturgy (you could also call it ritual, but Liturgy and Linebackers sounds better). If you love either the church or football, or are interested in a commentary on American life you’ll find it fascinating. (By the way, if you aren’t interested in either football or the church, you are the one percent…but that is a different story). His post got me thinking, especially on the heels of Halloween and the “hallowed” childhood event of trick-or-treating, about rituals.

Somehow, there are unwritten rules about what to do on Halloween night, how to go trick or treating.  The parents generally stand back on the sidewalk and urge the little ones forward. “Go on, ring the bell. The porch light is on.” Then when the amiable neighbor opens the door, the costumed cutie holds out the bag. The gruff older man or the swooning older woman smiles.

“What do you say?”

“Trick or treat!”

“There you go honey!”

“Thank you! Happy Halloween!”

This process repeats itself about twenty five times or so. Parents beam at their own brave and adorable child, they wave in friendliness to the neighbor whose name they don’t know. College students home before a night out, middle aged folk whose own kids are out, elderly who can’t quite see or know the name of the latest superhero…all alike open doors and give out candy and warm greetings. Happy Halloween rings out, parents exclaim over other kids costumes and share grins about the silliness of the evening. And the whole thing feels like…well, Christmas. It feels like a Norman Rockwell painting of carolers.  You know the feeling, right? Everyone is bundled, and happy, they pause from the busyness of the season to be nice to one another, they smile, pass happy greetings and everyone is warmed on the inside.

I suppose it’s because Halloween is a special occasion (special as in one day a year) that it takes on such ritual. Each family’s ritual may vary slightly, but the fact is that Halloween has it’s own special feel and associated actions, sights, smells, tastes. It’s positioned at a certain time of year when the temperature is colder and the days are darker (and precedes All Saints’ Day, where the Church celebrates all of the faithful witnesses that have gone before us).  It’s a way that we find community and create a sense of belonging in a world that is alienating and way too busy.

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