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The Cold Filtered Ramblings of Gene Mueller

Are the big kids wrecking Halloween for the little ones?

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A grocery bag.

An old sheet with strategically placed eye-holes.

And the streets of Sheboygan.

That was Halloween when I was growing up in the 60's, and I lived to tell about it.

How times have changed.

Halloween used to be strictly for the kids--my parents never held parties and I can't EVER remember them being in costume for the occasion.   There were no organized bashes, no community trick-or-treats.  Candy was accrued by going door-to-door in the dark of night with a pack of friends.   That's what made it special--being out on what usually was a school night, freed from the chains of homework (woe to the teacher who gave you any that evening). Sure, mom would help you come up with an outfit (hence, the sheet) but the only other parental involvement would come at the end of the night when you'd dump your stash on the floor to see what you'd snagged: mom and dad would be johnny on the spot to pick out the stuff you didn't like (black licorice). 

Fast forward to the 21st century: a Time magazine columnist says we'll spend $8 billion dollars this Halloween, with adults spending more on costumes than kids (17.5% to 13%).   Are you going to a party this weekend, or hitting a bar for a Halloween-themed bash?   If not, you're probably in the minority.

That will no doubt come after your kids either attend a community-sponsored trick-or-treat event run by big kids (you and other adults) or go door-to-door before dark, usually with mom/dad shepherding them through the neighborhood.   We'll get their candy scanned afterward at a nearby ER.   The same Time writer points out there's never been a documented case of poisoned candy, and that incidents involving child predators don't spike on Halloween.   Nevertheless, in this the age of the helicopter parent, mom and dad are ever pro-active.

Were my parents reckless?   Hardly.  It's how Halloween was done back then, and those my age who took part made out out intact, save a few cavities and belly-aches.   It was also a time when playgrounds had jungle gyms and monkey bars and other equipment that could be a lot of fun but that also separated the nimble from the clumsy, the tell-tale sign being a cast on an arm or a leg.   There were no rubber pads to cushion the fall for those who didn't know how to navigate the school yard terrain.

When it was my turn to raise little ones, did I revert back to the ways of my youth and let my kids do their Halloween begging under street lights?   Of course not.   I went with the times, while bemoaning the obvious loss of innocence.

Then, my wife and I would go to a holiday party with the other parents.

The magazine writer points out that it was sometime in the 70's when the kids started losing sole grip on what had been strictly a childhood event.   Now, Halloween is second only to Christmas when it comes to commercial spending.  Makes sense, when you think about it: every vacant storefront becomes a Halloween Express come late August, State Fair's parking lot is a giant inflatable retail pumpkin and what bar/restaurant doesn't have some sort of party planned this coming weekend?  

No matter how bad the economy or how tough the times, we're always ready for a blow-out and a chance to spend what little cash we have on having fun.   Halloween gives us big kids a chance to return to our youth, to dress up funny, to act out a little bit and, for at least one night, dress up and go out in the dark without mom and dad watching.  

Who knew such a journey would scare up eight billion dollars?  


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