I love seeing the giggling kids parading around the neighborhood as fairy princesses, cartoon characters and super heroes. I love seeing old folks decked out as witches, pirates and monsters, doling out candy to the usually timid little beggars, who, emboldened by their own disguises, have knocked on their doors. I love the giant tarantulas hanging from the trees and the ghostly music emanating from the doorbells.
Last Halloween, I accompanied my two granddaughters and their little friends as they canvassed their neighborhood for goodies. I hung back with the contingent of parents who followed at a respectful distance, chatting with each other while little ones ran from house to house.
I watched my son, now 40-something with graying hair, as he shepherded his daughters through the streets, and for a moment, I saw a boy of seven resplendent in his home-made Superman costume. He wore that costume long after Halloween had passed until it became a pile of rags. I warmed at the memory still as fresh as yesterday.
What is it about dressing up that so captivates the child in all of us?
A costume can do so much. It can hide us from enemies and frighten them away, show dominance and superiority, and draw or repel attention. It can attract a mate. It can create delightful illusions and fantasies, transporting us to other worlds and times. It can make us powerful and beautiful for a delicious moment.
Wearing a costume can even reveal one's secret self, though for an adult that can be a bit risky.
I once attended a weekend retreat sponsored by a college professor of psychology. A dozen or so of his students and friends were invited to a house on the beach to explore in various ways "our shadow selves." The professor's worthy intention was to help the participants become more fully realized human beings.
The climactic event was a party for which we dressed in costumes designed to express our shadow selves. The gentle, loving professor's dark side was a stereotypical policeman. He walked about the room accosting people rudely, snarling and giving them orders. A lovely, usually modest young woman, dressed in a leather jacket, mini-skirt and and high boots, strode among the group cracking a whip and spouting obscenities. A normally sedate, well-dressed, 40-ish man became a dirty, ragged street person. And so on.
I was stumped at first by my own choice of costume. I had donned a long black robe with a hood that almost hid my face. Instead of being my talkative self, I glided around the room wordlessly, making everyone feel weird. Finally, it came to me who I was: The Judge. I didn't like my shadow self. Neither did anyone else. In fact, no one liked anyone else's shadow self. We didn't much like each other even after we shed the costumes. Some things are better left in the shadows.
But I digress. We were talking about Halloween.
This year, I've decided to dress up for the trick-or-treaters who visit my house. I found the perfect costume at Wal-Mart: a black, pointy witch's hat with neon-green stripes and matching green hair. Completing the ensemble is a flowing, neon-green polyester cape with high collar in the style of Snow White's wicked stepmother. I'm working on the Wicked Witch of the East's screeching laugh.
Cool, huh? The kids love that stuff.