Stop making fun of the undead!

Tonight, the 31st of October, is a night that has traditionally seen all kinds of celebrations in the name of darkness, evil and death. Naturally, most of the festivities are skewed to be fairly harmless in spite of that theme. If they weren’t, Halloween would be much too difficult to commercialize, and that is the main factor in the staying power of any holiday. Also, people are generally a lot less superstitious than they were back before science could explain most of the phenomena formerly chalked up to supernatural reasons.

This is where the smiling cartoon ghosts and skeletons come in. If someone’s anorexia had really progressed to the point where their skeletal structure was visible, they probably wouldn’t be smiling too much. And if, on top of that, they had to deal with being stuck in limbo between this life and the next, needless to say they would be having an even worse day. Details like that aside, things are definitely a lot more family-friendly these days. But, in spite of this focus, the fun factor of Halloween is often counterbalanced by the accidents and unhealthy situations that people get themselves into this time of year. Now that we’re well into the 21st century, it’s high time to re-examine some of the attitudes that have created an environment much more dangerous than it seems at first glance.

The imagined dangers of ghosts and werewolves have been replaced with the very real threat of a diabetic coma from too many Sweet Tarts, or of having your house egged, your decorative front-porch pumpkins smashed and your cats molested by out-of-control revelers who use this and every holiday as an excuse to drink and cause trouble. No superstitious beliefs are necessary to be terrified at the thought of leaving the house.

Most of the time, if an adult goes around approaching random strangers and asking them for a handout, it’s referred to as panhandling or begging and is usually frowned upon by the general public. However, at the end of every October, when grade-school children dressed unconvincingly as characters from “Star Wars” or “Lord of the Rings” take part in this exact same activity, it’s considered socially acceptable. There’s even a cute nickname for it: trick-or-treating. Awww. As absurd as this may seem, it isn’t going to be changing anytime soon. If you live in a residential area rather than in the dorms, you are most likely to come into contact with these children. The only thing to do is devise a reasonable way of dealing with them.

Not many people pay attention to the fact that when the rugrats come to your door and say “trick or treat,” they are actually offering you two clearly defined options. Most of the time, people give a treat every time and completely overlook their “trick” option. With obesity among children at an all-time high in this country, due in no small part to the damage caused by too many “treats,” maybe it’s time to consider a trick this year. Laying land mines in the front yard is a little too involved for most people, but running just enough electrical current through the doorbell to give a minor shock when pushed is totally within reason, as is just giving out big handfuls of wrappers with nothing inside.

A surprising number of people who are well past the trick-or-treating age choose to get dressed up in costume every year. This kind of behavior is often encouraged by themed costume parties. If you can’t help yourself from getting involved in such silliness, for crying out loud be sure to use nonflammable materials. And please, avoid costumes that would be offensive to the groups that are most commonly stereotyped on Halloween, like zombies (or life-impaired individuals, as they prefer to be called). It’s the same thing with vampires. A serious addiction to blood is no laughing matter and can lead to being ostracized by one’s family and friends.

Halloween has always been a time for outlandish pranks. Some of these are no longer acceptable in a civilized society. A burning bag of crap on someone’s front porch releases too many harmful toxins into the atmosphere, so that’s out completely. Toilet-papering houses, cars and slow-moving pedestrians is preferable, if using quickly biodegradable recycled toilet paper. Egging, although it’s a bit mean-spirited, is another option – organic, free-range eggs can be purchased for a reasonable price at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. Keep it safe and simple. Yes, everything IS always funnier when somebody gets hurt, but the aftermath can often be too much to deal with in these litigious times.

I can only shudder to think at all the outrageous activities I’ve seen people get involved with on previous Halloweens. The trick-or-treating for beer, the paintball attacks on innocent civilians … However, it’s time to move past that kind of immaturity and have a responsible holiday season for once. When I’m still alive and healthy to toast New Year’s 2004 with a big glass of Martinelli’s sparkling cider, right before I go to bed at 12:01 a.m., I’m sure this approach will have proved to be worth it.