Halloween: The best of times, the worst of times

Photo of Halloween Decorations
David McAllister/Staff

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My Halloweens as a young kid consisted of cherished hand-me-down costumes from a family friend; Halloween picture books I would buy from the book fair, absorbing each page over and over again; after-school visits to the local farmers market with my family, where the goats from the tiny petting zoo would tickle our hands as we fed them; pumpkin-carving sessions in which I and my siblings would mash our hands into the pumpkins and rip their guts out. So many memories. All bright and warm.

There was something so paradoxically harmonious yet individualistic about Halloween as a kid. We all eagerly partook in the festivities while showcasing our individuality through our costume choices. We didn’t have a care in the world except to have fun and eat candy. There’s a great sense of joy when the people around you are as excited and committed to something as you are. 

So what happened? Delving into my memories of Halloween from my middle school years, it gets a little dimmer. Suddenly I’m worrying about whether or not people are actually going to be wearing costumes to school. Halloween became this cliquey holiday in which I asked myself questions such as, Which of my friends am I going to wear matching costumes with? How do we decide on a costume we all like? Who am I going trick-or-treating with? 

By seventh grade, I still hadn’t caught on to the whole group matching costume norm. That year, I wanted to dress up as a lifeguard. It would also be the first year that I wasn’t going to wear a hand-me-down costume or an expensive store-bought one from Spirit. I was determined to put together my own costume. 

Although assembling my lifeguard attire didn’t take too much effort, the finished product was still the fruit of my labor. I had been mentally preparing for it far in advance and had even crafted my own seashell necklace by stringing one of the shells from my shell collection. (It sounds simple, but it took quite a long time.) The costume ultimately became something of personal importance to me. 

That warm Halloween day when I stepped into school with my lifeguard costume on, I felt good about myself. That was until I saw a group of girls who were wearing their own matching lifeguard costumes. It was unmistakable that their costumes were superior to mine. They wore cute lifeguard visors and had fanny packs strapped to their waists. During lunch, I saw that they had even stored Life Saver gummies in their fanny packs. How had I not thought of that? As they munched on their gummies together in pure bliss, I stood from afar, sulking about everything wrong with my costume. I felt weak and outnumbered. 

Later that day during English class, one of the lifeguards came up to me. “Hey, we’re twinning,” she said. “Not really,” I replied, attempting a feeble smile. 

While her intentions were friendly, they didn’t seem that way to me. It was as if she was shoving me into the light, directly pointing out my inferiority. We weren’t “twinning” for a number of reasons, the most important being that I was not a part of her group. I was an outsider. At the end of the day, my feelings of inferiority weren’t based on who’s costume was better; they stemmed from the fact that I wasn’t part of a group. I didn’t have a fabulous tight-knit group of friends to coordinate creative costumes with. 

For the next Halloween, I had resolved to wear matching costumes with my friends. This, of course, was a stressful social dilemma. I was part of a wide, loose friend group, and so I was constantly on guard over who already had group costume plans and who was still open to do group costumes. 

To my relief, everything ended up working out. Two of my friends and I got together and planned on dressing up as Ninja Turtles. Yay. 

Looking back on all these scattered thoughts and social constructs, I feel distressed. Why did I allow those petty thoughts to constantly run through my head? Why did how I appeared to others matter? Why did I have to constantly degrade myself? 

Halloween, just like anything else in our society, comes with social pressures. Too often we allow these pressures to define ourselves and everything else around us. Our minds become tailored to keep up with social standings at the expense of our sanity. 

How we choose to lead our lives is ultimately up to us. I’ve found that following the crowd ironically makes me feel more alone, more rigid, like I’m pretending to be someone I’m not. I don’t want to waste my life constantly feeling like I’m not there. 

I want to live my life as if I was still a kid. To thrive in my imagination. To be oblivious of social trivialities. My dad always reminisces about how when my siblings and I were younger, we would burst with happiness over the smallest things. When he would buy us ice cream, we rejoiced and called it the best day ever. Every day was the best day ever. 

In my freshman seminar class, we’ve been reading Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden. Thoreau was a man who clearly understood how the rigid structures of society often cut us off from ourselves. Rise free from care before the dawn, and seek adventures,” he writes. “Grow wild according to thy nature, like these sedges and brakes, which will never become English hay.”

Break past the social constructs. Live fully uninhibited from everyone and everything, he seems to be saying. Allow yourself to be individualistic to your very core.

I think if we allowed ourselves that, our lives would be more beautiful.

Contact Jeana Lee at [email protected].