A Holiday of Loving and Giving - Halloween?

Evil spirits abroad. Mischief. Goblins and ghosts. Soap on car windows. Witches and scary things of the night. Jack-o-lanterns with hollow eyes and jagged teeth. Not the holiday that you would immediately associate with reaching out, loving and giving. Yet I have been experiencing it recently as a time of heart-warming neighborliness.

When our children were small, we were very low-key--and cautious--about Halloween. We had fun choosing what to be and making costumes. We carved and set out pumpkins. We visited a few friends to show off our costumes and do a token trick-or-treat. But I certainly didn't focus on the trick-or-treat part of the ritual. The idea of collecting masses of candy didn't appeal to me, and I was plenty nervous about ringing doorbells at strange houses.

As the children got older, however, that token no longer seemed enough. We started going to the houses of everybody that we knew in our area. Sometimes their neighbors were out on the steps ready with a bowl of treats, and the children were eager to accept.

Finally we realized that you could tell which houses were filled with the spirit of the holiday. They had decorations on the windows, or lighted jack-o-lanterns on the steps, or ghosts hanging from the porch roof. The message was clear: "Welcome. We are ready for you. We are expecting you to ring our bell." So we did. And invariably we were met with a smile, an offer of a treat, an appreciative comment on costumes. We were warmly welcomed by neighbors--friends and strangers alike--again and again and again.

I came home filled with a deep sense of well-being. Of course the children had way too much candy than was good for them. But that paled in the light of the human goodness that we had been privileged to witness in the process.

We all know about crime. We worry about danger. Many things in our city are not right--and it's easy to focus on all the problems that surround us. Yet the heart of our neighborhood was showing itself in this holiday, and I saw, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the heart of our neighborhood was good.

Of course, this is not the whole story of Halloween. Yes, there are some places where it provides an excuse for mischief, arson and destruction. Yes, there have been scattered cases around the country of people using the access it provides to children in weird and hurtful ways. But this is the reality in our neighborhood as I have experienced it.

Our impulse is to care. Our impulse is to reach out with that caring beyond our families and friends. Our impulse is to treasure the children--all the children. And Halloween, like no other time of the year, provides us a means to show that caring.

What a wonderful irony that the night of the year that is supposed to embody all that is evil in the world turns out to be the one in which people open their doors, welcome strangers, and shine out the light of their goodness.