Halloween Then and Now

When I was young, our Halloweens would begin when our group of pals would stop at the home of an old widow in our neighborhood.  She fortified us with hot chocolate and cookies before we began our trick-or-treating.  We were warmed by her kindness, and she was rewarded by the simple joy of being a surrogate grandmother to us.

All the kids, in our group or whom we would pass on the way from one doorbell to another, knew each other, even behind our homemade costumes, and all the grownups in the homes we visited knew us all as well, too.  Although many homes gave us name-brand candy bars or other store-bought treats, many also gave us popcorn balls and candied apples and homemade fudge and other goodies that came out of kitchens in our neighborhood.  Good folks made tried and true treats, often a "tradition" of the house, for the kids who played with their kids. 

That was part of the fun.  That was part of the connection in our lives with friends and neighbors who knew us and loved us.  Often neighbors would "guess" who was behind the pirate costume or Superman plastic mask, but regardless of who we were, these moms and dads at the doors of their homes behaved as though we were their own precious and beloved children. 

That Halloween is gone, of course.  How many people remember a Halloween in which parents are warned by police and television news that popcorn balls my have razors in them or candied apples have hairpins stuck inside, or that homemade fudge might be laced with prescription drugs or poison? 

The insinuation of diabolical evil into a wholesome family holiday was not, as we are often told today, "inevitable."  Only the descent of our society into a grim world sprinkled with malicious destroyers and grinning sadists made Halloween transform from an eve of playful abandon into a time of fearful warnings to our children. 

The reason no one put horrible things into Halloween treats then but do so now has nothing to do with "progress" or "urbanization" or "changing society."  There is nothing inevitable about the progress of evil.  Halloween was transformed for the worse because too many of us stopped believing in the virtue of moral behavior and the dreadful wages of sin.

What has happened to Halloween has happened to life in general.  This decline cannot be trumped by technology or protocols or policing.  Consider the Information Revolution, something that ought to be a great boon to humanity.  Yet it cannot truly be that, because the criminal machinations of men corrupt and decay this sort of technological progress.  Terms like "password" and "user ID" and "computer virus" and "malware" and "firewall" all are accepted unthinkingly by us as the price of progress. 

Men, we are taught to believe, cannot be trusted to follow conscience and accepted social mores to be honorable, but this is simply not true.  It was precisely personal honor and religious conscience and recognition of the vital importance of morality that allowed us to rise in the first place. 

Science divorced from those values rapidly degrades into dull political calculation and not the pursuit of truth, and that degradation is the state of science today.  Children raised without fathers and estranged from grandparents presume that the world is a cold and senseless place and seek release in drugs or sex or vile crimes, like poisoning Halloween treats.

Young people growing up believing that God is dead (or ought to be) and that the magnificent panoply of Judeo-Christian armor merits only snickers and mockery are doomed creatures, flailing for hope in precisely those shadowy crevices devoid of it – pathetic materialism, novelties of the day,  sensual excesses, humorless humor, and other emotional and intellectual placeboes.

The bad news is that without reclaiming moral purpose and connecting our lives again to unchanging values, the slide into perdition will not end on its own, and life will get much uglier and meaner than it is today.  The good news is that those moral principles that can raise us up again are also sensible, joyful, wise, and irresistible – once championed by enough of us and made again the centerpiece of our social life.