When I was young, just a few years old, I wore the same Cinderella costume for three straight Halloweens. I would put on my princess dress, and my parents would march me up the street to collect a couple of quarters and candy bars from my elderly neighbors. The whole routine barely lasted an hour.
By the time I reached elementary school, the sleeves of the dress that once slipped off my shoulders grew too tight to pull over my arms, but I wasn’t sad. That meant choosing a new outfit, a new fantasy, and my brother and I made a tradition of scouring every Halloween website for the perfect costume as soon as the calendar reached Oct. 1st.
Sixth grade marked the beginning of middle school and the end of Halloween as I knew it. That was the first year I went without putting on my costume for school-wide Halloween parades and class parties. For the first time, who I dressed up with mattered way more than who I dressed up as. If my friends and I went trick-or-treating, we wouldn’t be cute kids begging for candy to rot our gapped teeth; we would be potential trouble-makers, the teenagers my mother always denounced for throwing her candy bowl in the bushes.
None of that mattered, in the end, because there was no Halloween when I was in sixth grade. On Oct. 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy reached New Jersey, and the storm was far scarier than any previous spooky season. I remember how dark it was, how the cloud coverage and the power outages painted everything dark gray. I remember shivering under layers of sweatshirts while my costume —Thing 2 — hung in the closet. I remember my family feasting on everything in our fridge so it wouldn’t spoil without a piece of candy in sight. It was a period of constant waiting, waiting for the power to return, waiting to be allowed back at school, waiting for a holiday that would never come.
Then-Governor Chris Christie said New Jersey’s Halloween would take place a week later, but fallen trees and downed power lines drove most parents to keep their kids inside. Once the town cleared the streets and restored power to the schools, my mom collaborated with some other PTA-members to host a “Trunk-or-Treat” in the parking lot of our town community center. Few people attended. It was well into November at that point anyway. For those lucky enough to avoid serious damage from the storm, it was time for Turkeys, not Twix bars. Others were too preoccupied with finding a place to live after a tree crushed their family room.
Chris Christie postponed Halloween in 2012, but I never got it back. A freak snowstorm had hit on Halloween in 2011, a year before Sandy. That storm also cut power, fell trees, and cancelled Halloween. What had seemed like a fluke was confirmed a year later. No Halloween became normal.
I don’t think about Halloween much anymore, and if I do, I’ve never gotten that sweet-spooky feeling back. Watching scantily-clad high schoolers drink themself into a stupor fails to encapsulate the same holiday spirit. Malibu is sweet, but it’s no replacement for a Mounds bar. I no longer watch Disney Channel, so the network can’t entice me with a “Halloweentown” movie marathon. I live on a busy street with few other kids. Most years, we don’t see a single trick-or-treater, and I certainly don’t venture out myself. For me, Halloween is a non-entity.
I don’t know how my town will handle Halloween during a pandemic, when knocking on each others’ doors and sharing food could jeopardize community health. We’ve cancelled Halloween before; what’s one more year? At least Halloween is the one day a year Americans might not complain about wearing masks.
Jordan Fitzgerald | firstname.lastname@example.org