The Halloween Wonder Years
If fall truly is a time of year when reinvention is possible, no day is this more tangibly evident than on Halloween, that annual event for which tons of children literally re-imagine themselves as someone (or something) completely different. Halloween provides intrepid young minds with the opportunity to let their fantasies run wild in a way that would normally be frowned upon by adults. When else are kids given the freedom to dress however they’d like and run manically through the neighborhood, gobbling up candy from strangers? It’s like a childhood goldmine.
And it doesn’t last very long. The years between when a child recognizes the gift of Halloween for what it is and when he or she grows “too old” to trick or treat are few and fleeting. I remember the year I walked from house to house — dressed as a pretty awesome dragon, I might add — realizing I was older than all of the other children I saw in the neighborhood. I felt more like Godzilla, terrorizing the neighborhood kids and making all of the adults give me that grow up look. That realization is one of those dark markers of a childhood ending, similar to discovering that your mom is really the one eating the cookies left out for a certain jolly fat man.
Which is why it is bittersweet to watch Miles enter the age when he can begin to revel in the holiday. This year he’s going to be a fireman, which he’s very excited about, having spent the better part of the year with fire trucks as a favorite toy of choice. But next year he’ll begin choosing his own costume, and the transformative power of Halloween will be in full effect.
The question for us will be: How do we maximize the wonder and imaginative potential that Halloween provides for those few short years? As the holiday approaches, I’ve been giving it more thought, and I think there are two things we’ll want to focus on for Miles (and any subsequent children).
First, I want to extend Halloween to be more than just a day. I want to carve pumpkins, put up fun decorations, and get him thinking about what he wants to be early. Some families choose not to put much of a focus on extending Halloween’s magic, but why shouldn’t it be? Christmas gets the seasonal treatment — rightly deserved for its emphasis on selflessness and togetherness. But there’s something gloriously personal (and, let’s be honest, selfish) about choosing your own identity and eating tons of sweets that deserves to be celebrated in its own way.
Then I want to help Miles think outside the box for his costume. If he wants to be a character from his favorite television show, he of course will have the freedom to do so. But I think it’s so much more fun to come up with your own ideas for who you want to be. When I was a dragon, it was just because I loved dragons (geeky, I know). It was a homemade costume, one that was unique from every other kid on the block. Similarly, I want to encourage Miles to have fun coming up with his own ideas from his own imagination.
What are some of the crazy imaginative things that your kids do on Halloween?
Caleb Gardner is an amateur father and husband who writes at The Exceptional Man and dabbles in photography, design, and music. When listening to the cacophony of modern-day America, Caleb prefers a side of Scotch. He calls Chicago home, and in winter, less-nice things.