Originally published Sunday, October 27, 1996
I love Halloween. It reminds me of my happy childhood days as a student at Wampus Elementary School in Armonk, N.Y., when we youngsters used to celebrate Halloween by making decorations out of construction paper and that white paste that you could eat. This is also how we celebrated Columbus Day, Washington's Birthday, Lincoln's Birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, New Year's, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Armistice Day, Flag Day, Arbor Day, Thursday, etc. We brought these decorations home to our parents, who by federal law were required to attach them to the refrigerator with magnets.
That was a wonderful, carefree time in which to be a youngster or construction-paper salesperson. But it all ended suddenly one day -- I'll never forget it -- when the Soviet Union launched the first satellite, called "Sputnik" (which is Russian for "Little Sput"). Immediately all the grown-ups in America became hysterical about losing the Space Race, which led to a paranoid insecurity about our educational system, expressed in anguished newspaper headlines asking, "WHY AREN'T OUR KIDS LEARNING IN SCHOOL?" I wanted to answer, "BECAUSE ALL WE EVER DO IS MAKE DECORATIONS OUT OF CONSTRUCTION PAPER, " but I couldn't, because my mouth was full of paste.
But getting back to Halloween: It's still one of the most fun holidays of the year, as well as one of the most traditional, tracing its origins back more than 2,000 years to the Druids, an ancient religious cult that constructed Stonehenge as well as most of the public toilets in England. The Druids believed that one night each year, at the end of October, the souls of the dead returned to the world of the living and roamed from house to house costumed as Power Rangers.
And thus it is that to this day, youngsters come to our door on Halloween night shouting: "Trick or treat!" According to tradition, if we don't give the youngsters a "treat, " their parents will "sue" us. That's why most of us traditionally prepare for Halloween by going to the supermarket and purchasing approximately eight metric tons of miniature candy bars, which we dump into a big bowl by the door, ready to hand out to the hordes of trick-or-treaters.
The irony, of course, is that there ARE no hordes of trick-or-treaters, not any more. We in the news media make darned sure of that. Every year we publish dozens of helpful consumer-advice articles, cheerfully reminding parents of the dangers posed by traffic, perverts, poisoned candy, and many other Halloween hazards that parents would never think of if we didn't remind them ("Have fun, but remember that this year more than 17,000 Americans will die bobbing for apples").
The result is that many children aren't allowed to go trick-or-treating, and the ones who ARE allowed out come to your house no later than 4:30 p.m., wearing reflective tape on their Power Rangers costumes and trailed at close range by their parents, who watch you suspiciously and regard whatever candy you hand out as though it were unsolicited mail from the Unabomber.
So for most of Halloween, your doorbell is quiet. This means that you pass the long night alone, hour after hour, just you and the miniature candy bars. After a while they start calling seductively to you from their bowl in their squeaky little voices. "Hey, Big Boy!" they call. "We're going to waste over here!"