Comfort may be a strange word to describe Halloween, but it is accurate. I’m no specialist on the holiday, although I’ve read a few books on it—most recently Lisa Morton’s Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween. Growing up in what felt to me like an uncertain environment, holidays—and especially Halloween—have left me with positive impressions. Morton’s book explores this strange combination of fear and fun and suggests that many people of my generation do find comfort in its celebration. I grew up without a father in a conservatively religious home. Yet I loved the escape of putting on a mask and being someone else. Coming home with a bag of candy was a bit like that dream I still have of finding a penny on the ground and then realizing there are thousands of them just beneath the surface. There’s a security in that dream and I always find a tear in my eye when I awake from it.
Halloween is, appropriately, a chimera of holidays. It is solidly pagan. It is equally solidly Christian (specifically Catholic). Perhaps to placate those troublesome Celts, the Roman Church moved its commemoration of All Saints and All Souls to November 1 and 2, allowing for the Eve of what used to be called “All Hallows” as a holdover of Hibernian lore. Morton goes beyond the northern European fascination with the darkening of the year to explore other regions and how they mark the season. The southern hemisphere, obviously, doesn’t have the same pattern of autumn and spring, and the holiday has had less success there. The threat of the light never returning has to be real to make the fear stick. The warmest memories of my childhood seem to come from the days artificially lengthened by electric lights and the holidays they spawned: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. Comfort.
The air has begun to turn chilly around here. I’ve found myself shivering a morning or two while waiting for the bus. As I pull on my coat and step out into the pre-dawn dark, a stop sign creaks eerily on the deserted street. I’m headed to a long day in a city of stone and glass and warmth will be difficult to find. Halloween decorations get lost in the enormity of New York City and its constant quest for money. So I recall Halloweens of my small-town childhood. I tend not to go out at night, but I haven’t always been this way. When there was an unspoken comfort awaiting at home, no matter how frightening it could be at times, I would brave the dark and ask strangers for candy. Is it any wonder that Halloween still glows in a world somehow grown too cold?