There are lots of people who dislike Halloween — the pageantry, the candy, the pagan connections. But me? I love it. And so does my community. Every year, our town hosts a gigantic trick or treating event in the center of town. Kids and their families trick or treat down our Main Street, visiting houses and businesses. We’re a somewhat rural community with few sidewalks and many houses set way back off the road, so this tradition makes it special — we see so many decorations and costumes and silliness.
But last year? Last year was different. For the first time in the many years we’ve lived here, there was no town-sanctioned Halloween celebration. Our town officials deemed it unsafe and cancelled the event.
Two days before Halloween last year, a storm rolled in bringing snow — lots of heavy, wet October snow. And with it, it brought down power lines, trees and spirits. In a town that loves its Halloween celebration, we were faced instead with power outages, no running water (many people have wells so now power means no water), closed roads and dangerous falling trees and branches.
The costumes had been chosen and were waiting. The plans to trick or treat with our cousins were in place. But Halloween was soon postponed by town officials. It was just too dangerous — and we all understood. Safety was the first priority.
That was our second big storm of 2011. Hurricane Irene had fallen trees and knocked out power for days. Just two months later, we were still recovering when the nor’easter hit. October snow is notoriously heavy since it’s not yet really cold here. So through the night into the 30th, we heard the crack and boom of trees and branches falling around us, weighed down with the menacing snow. I couldn’t sleep, and instead prayed that we and our family would remain safe through the night. Our power had gone out almost as soon as the storm began — and it remained out for more than five days. For some of our family, friends and neighbors, it stayed out for a week or more.
All throughout, Halloween was the bright spot. A beacon of hope that once all the clean up efforts and difficulty of living without power ended, we’d return to normalcy with our fun traditional celebration. But as the cleanup and power restoration efforts dragged on, town officials decided to cancel Halloween.
Of course safety is paramount. Of course restoring power and cleaning up was absolutely the most important thing. But with days to go before the postponement day, the cancellation was so deflating. It was like we’d missed a key part of our town culture and would never get it back.
The sadness was soon replaced with hope. My kids’ school, a private school, pulled together. The president of the PTA talked school officials into hosting our own Halloween celebration, Trick or Trunk, in the school parking lot. Instead of houses, kids would trick or treat from car to car. There would be a decorating contest for the cars. The whole town was invited.
Safety plans were put in place. Rules were set. If you were one of the cars handing out candy (and we were), then you had to stay for the full event.
I’ll never forget the morning of the event. Our local grocery story had just reopened and I headed there for some supplies. We’d just gotten power back ourselves. While I was standing in line at the check out, I overheard the manager instructing an employee to pack up all the Halloween candy. They were donating it to the Trick or Trunk event. The store, which lost so much of its stock in both Irene and the nor’easter, wanted to help — without even being asked to do so.
Last year, Halloween came a few days late — and was one of the most memorable ones ever. There was so much spirit and thankfulness and relief and generosity. And though the kids loved the treats they got, it wasn’t about the candy. It might seem silly. Halloween is just a stupid holiday where kids dress up and beg for candy. But after two devastating storms that completely shook the way we live — and prepare for such events — it was so important. We needed that silly. We needed that hope.
Halloween is coming again. And again we are faced with a potentially devastating storm. I don’t know what will happen this Halloween, but I will forever be grateful for the efforts of a few good people last year, who brought light to our town that had been consumed in dark.
Ironically, I started writing this post a few days ago. It was before we really were sure that Hurricane/Tropical Storm Sandy would have any impact on our area. Now we know that we will have some severe weather — though it’s still not certain how severe. The topic of Halloween is being talked about again here. After last year, it’s clear that Halloween will go on … we just aren’t sure when or how quite yet.