Top illustration by Tim Forkes
In the United States, there are five (unspoken) varying brands of Halloween, celebrated by distinctly different groups. These celebratory traditions exist in order to satisfy the holiday-savoring appetites of the average American, who — relying on holidays and social media clicks for their happiness rather than access to affordable healthcare — would otherwise be absolutely discouraged at the state of the world.
Type One: The Family with Children
You know this type. They’re the ones you buy candy for, leave on a porchlight, and decorate your house (just a little) in the hopes to see little witches and Disney characters bound up to your door with their hapless, usually sleep-deprived parents, as all the adults spend a night being tricked into treating their little ones. There’s a sort of child-centric quality to most holidays, undeniably, but Halloween ranks quite highly on the list, with dress-up and make-believe already being prominent tenets of their young lives.
The motivation behind most families going out to celebrate Halloween is to make memories that give their children something to talk about with their friends at school or daycare, and to give the parents some time away from the responsibilities inherent in staying home. Trick or treating, especially with kids, allows an escape from both your usual surroundings and the identity you wear day in and day out as you go about work, school and house chores.
Type Two: The Tweens and Teenagers
They are the reason you turn your porchlight off around 9 p.m. But no, when you look outside and see their youthful, optimistic, fake-blood covered faces, you can’t help but open the door and tell them it’s late; they “should be going home soon.” But they’re here, and they want candy. Many of them aren’t even wearing much of a costume, or at least not anything that looks much different from the clothes they wear on a daily basis. (Ripped clothing for zombies? That’s just what you see every day at the mall. Colored hair? Your dental receptionist has had purple bangs since 2017.)
Their primary objective seems to be rebellion, and that’s usually a motivating factor behind their attire and the time at which they decided to head out for their spoils on Halloween as well. They know they’re nearing an age when people may not look so kindly on their attention-seeking, but they’re unaware of just how close they’re teetering to those borders. And with no parents supervising them as they walk around the neighborhood, it’s likely they’re enjoying a bit of independence not felt by any kids since the wild latchkey generations of the 70s and 80s. So go ahead, give them all the candy you can spare. They’ll be reaping both the rewards and responsibilities of adulthood soon enough.
Type Three: The Church Crowd
So you want to celebrate Halloween, but you think your religion is against it? No problem. Nearly every church has some Halloween program in either a gymnasium, basement or steeple-covered sanctuary where they encourage believers to reject more “worldly” celebration and engage in some crafts and pumpkin carving. There’s costumes, punch, and just about everything kids might experience at a normal Halloween party … but usually with some Jesus talk thrown in.
Motivated by a mix of FOMO (fear of missing out) and devotion to standing apart from the secular crowd, many religious folks keep their families “safe” from the influence of Halloween, opting more towards the All Hallowed Eve mentality.
Type Four: The Adults Who Just Love Cosplay
Whether they actually leave the house or throw a giant house party to enjoy costumes and alcohol, this group usually consists of childless people in their 20’s or 30’s who really can’t get over the fact that society deems it socially unacceptable to leave the house in a petticoat or top hat. You’ll see costumes that may rival some of the Academy Award-winning period films that year, mixed in with a few people wearing bedsheets who just came to mingle.
Strangely, the strongest pull for this group is the lack of adherence to social rules and standards. For one night, everyone gets to be someone else. And for one night, that makes them feel more like themselves.
Type Five: The People Who Stay Home With Their Lights Off
People who stay home with their lights on, pass out candy, and welcome trick-or-treaters with good cheer are commoners to these folks. “When did I sign up to be a candy-dispenser?” they scoff. And they’re partially right. Halloween usually falls on a night where work or school comes early the next morning, and the last thing you need is late-night visitors in sugar comas knocking down your door.
While there’s no average age-range for these folks, there is a shared desire: to be left alone. And while it may feel oddly grinch-like, solitude is something to celebrate, and is also decidedly a lot spookier than any costume in our uber-connected world.
In the wake of a pandemic, and possibly the start of a new string of world concerns given the rise of anti-vax sentiment within the U.S., it’s hard to imagine holidays ever being quite the same. But for the sake of celebrating what the holiday has been and what it could be sometime in the very near future, this writer has left that brief mention to the very end of this silly memo: Wear a mask that suits your costume, stay healthy and celebrate safely with your family and friends.
Or stay home and nurture your curmudgeonly side. It’s alright; We’ve had a rough few years.
Megan Wallin is a young writer with a background in the social sciences and an interest in seeking the extraordinary in the mundane. A Seattle native, she finds complaining about the constant drizzle and overabundance of Starbucks coffee therapeutic. With varied work experiences as a residential counselor, preprimary educator, musician, writing tutor and college newspaper reporter/editor, Megan is thrilled to offer a unique perspective through writing, research and open dialogue.