The Darkest Holiday

Halloween is the best and that’s that

Mike Paulus

Pale dead weeds flank the wrought iron gate. Dark, dirty windows gape at you from the rickety walls. The roof has many angles and lots of little places to hide. The house stands three stories high with dingy, chipped paint and rusty gutters that clank in the wind. Gnarly half-dead trees drift around the front yard, lost in the cold midnight air. Somewhere deep inside, a sickly yellow light pops on. Keys rattle. The basement is unlocked ...

And I ask you: how can you not love Halloween? It’s simply impossible. A deep love for The Darkest Holiday is fused into our DNA (or something scientific like that). Seriously, we are born to fall in love with Halloween.

I used to sit in a corner of the school library with a stack of Halloween books, just staring at the pages. I wished we could dress up everyday. I wished it was always nighttime. I wanted to live in a haunted house next to a cemetery and eat peanut butter cups for the rest of my life.

Unless you were born in a country where they don’t celebrate Halloween. Or you don’t like scary stuff.

I went to St. James Elementary over on 11th Street in Eau Claire, and I loved Halloween. I was a self-conscious chubby kid, so my love for Halloween was largely internal, but rest assured, it was all I thought friggin’ about. 

I used to sit in a corner of the school library with a stack of Halloween books, just staring at the pages. I wished we could dress up everyday. I wished it was always nighttime. I wanted to live in a haunted house next to a cemetery and eat peanut butter cups for the rest of my life.

And, praise be to Satan, the parties were fantastic. Our little Catholic grade school parties were all about cupcakes and orange-flavored punch and Smarties and those chewy peanut butter things no one likes but me. There were skeleton-themed crafts. There were pumpkins. And we got to dress up.

Nowadays, many schools don’t allow costumes on Halloween, and while I’m sure they have good reasons for that, I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a positive experience. How can you not have high self esteem as you walk through your school’s front doors dressed like Optimus Prime? 

Try it.

And then there’s the actual trick-or-treating. It seems like I used to be out begging for candy until four in the morning, but I might be remembering that wrong. At any rate, it was fantastic. The combination of costumes, ghosts, monsters, mystery, candy, and more mystery – all of it beneath a starry sky – well, that’s just heroin for a kid.

Sadly, Halloween doesn’t always feel like a big tub of candy corn in which you can swim around like Scrooge McDuck. My most memorable – and perhaps worst – year of trick-or-treating happened in 1987. I was in the fifth grade. This was the last time I ever put on a costume to go out and get candy. 

October of 1987 was a big month for me because my family was packing up to move to a new town – on Nov. 1. I got to go trick-or-treating with my friends one last time and then leave the very next day. 

I lived on the westerly side of Eau Claire and to this day, whenever I drive through those neighborhoods, I think about trick-or-treating. If I drive down my old street, the first thing that comes to mind is saying goodbye to my friends before climbing into a moving truck. It was a grey, overcast morning, and I’ll never forget the feeling in my gut. My best friend stuck out his hand for a firm handshake. Such an adult thing to do. 

Dry your eyes. We moved back less than a year later, right into the old neighborhood. But of course, things were never the same. The friends to which I returned had moved on to new things, and I was still kind of stuck at the point where I had left. It was hard finding my place again. And there was no more dressing up for Halloween.

Maybe I’m so in love with the Halloweens of my youth because one year Halloween just changed, and so did everything else. I guess I wasn’t ready for it.

At any rate, grade school Halloween parties are important. Spooky books in the library are important. Dressing up and trick-or-treating beneath the stars is important. It gives us that strange and amazing mixture of fear and excitement that can only happen once a year when we’ve eaten enough sugar to kill a zebra. 

These things recharge our sense of wonder. They teach us to celebrate and crave a good surprise. Halloween is a night to remember how the world still holds a few secrets. It still hides a few treasures. And we need to keep searching for these things. 

Because who knows what’s down in the basement?