My Advice for a Safe and Happy Halloween

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October 31, 2008

I anticipated it almost as much as Christmas when I was a kid. You probably did, too. The colors are just about off the trees, and the nights are far colder. Just the way I like it. I grew bored with it for a time when I was a teenager, relegating myself to helping my mom decorate the front hall (in as macabre a fashion as she would permit). But I am all gung-ho for it once more, because I realize now that Halloween is probably more anarchistic than all other holidays.

And I truly believe that all holidays are anarchistic in various ways, excepting the fake days the government tries to sell us, usually resulting in little more than one less day at the grind. Beyond not having to go to work, who actually gives a damn about Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Presidents Day, or Memorial Day?

No, an anarchist's holiday is something more like Christmas. The spontaneity of people decorating their houses trying to outdo the neighbors, the charitable contributions, the giving of gifts to family and friends, the get-togethers, the way that stores chime in with decorations and sales, the simple change in greeting strangers with "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas." Thanksgiving is much the same way. Valentine's Day has its own organic rules. The Irish invite everyone along for St. Patrick's Day. Cinco de Mayo means little to me, but I understand it's on the rise now, and mostly as a way for adults to find one more way to celebrate something, anything. Probably an excuse to drink. I don't, but if you do, more power to you.

I may not be a dad, but I know what the first and most important refrain is that parents constantly teach their children: Don't talk to strangers. Personally, I think the most important one is: The meat cleaver is not a toy. But how is it that this maxim guarding against unknown grownups falls by the wayside one night per year? When I was a kid, parents didn't even escort their children door to door for trick-or-treating. That may have changed, but little else has. You still get candy for free, and often from strange adults. So you're not supposed to talk to strangers, but you're definitely not supposed to take candy from strangers, right? Another custodial caution swept away for a single cold, dark night every autumn.

At Christmastime, the gifts are usually exchanged between coworkers, friends, lovers and families. At Halloween, anybody who shows up at your door walks away with something for free. Understand that true charitable exchanges are always mutually beneficial. Once, after a brief conversation with a homeless man on the streets of New York City , I went to an ATM and gave him the funds necessary to get a hotel for the night. Maybe it was a ruse to get drug money, or maybe he even did this for a living, but I doubt it. The feeling I had afterward was one of genuine gratitude. I was thankful for what I had, and that I could impart it to another.

The same thing happens at Halloween. It's a quick fix, but it works. Dropping candy into the bags of grateful kids will give you the same feeling. You ought to get something out of every charitable act. If you don't, you're either not doing it right or you're not doing the right thing at all. Trust me. Handing out treats to excited kids is always the right thing to do. In any free market transaction, the mutual benefit should be readily apparent, and fully appreciated.

What happened to all those tainted candy scares that marred Halloween when I was growing up? It never actually ruined anything for me, but mainstream media certainly did their best. If you want to know what happened, and happened quickly, just look at the free market response. What candy company wants to lose sales at Halloween? What candies are parents most likely to buy? What candies are concerned neighbors, who want every trick-or-treat stop at their house to be a pleasant one, going to buy? Any public relations guru or marketing executive at any candy company in this country will tell you what will sell. If some loser tries to trick the treat by adding poison or other harmful products, you can now tell by the wrapping. No government mandate necessary. It's simple logic, really. The demand for safe candy, and the accompanying clamor for the continuance of a long holiday tradition, will deliver safe candy.

Parents are a bit more cautious these days, and that's understandable. My parents never actually had us go trick-or-treating, but that was okay with us, as there was always a party either at our church or for all the neighborhood kids. I know other parents who only do trick-or-treating at the homes of people they know, which means a lot more driving than walking is involved. There was no government demand for this. When a threat is perceived, parents, churches and communities will normally take care of these things themselves. Sound judgment at Halloween time does not need to be enforced, merely encouraged; and not by the police, but by parents and neighbors.

Halloween means taking your kids out of the unnatural environment of public school and "play dates." They'll have an opportunity to see people they might not otherwise meet. They'll be out in the fresh air. They'll get a brief glimpse into how life is lived in other people's homes. They deserve to know much, much more about their neighbors, but at least for one night a year, they'll see the normalcy, the ordinariness, and the sheer beauty of other people's lives: the young married couple down the street, the widower next door, the retired couple a few blocks away, where that cat that's always sniffing around in your backyard mysteriously comes from. These are they whom you live amongst. You should know them. They should know you.

Halloween will be good for you, too, now that I've married it to that loathsome word: anarchy. No government is needed to tell people how to celebrate, how to have fun, how to associate, how to protect themselves, how to enlist free enterprise in their enjoyment, how to decorate. Take a walk with your kids, or stay home and load up on the goodies for distribution, and just observe, as the original meaning of community comes roaring back to life for a few magical hours.

Just for fun, and to get a little on the dangerous side, light a Jack-O-Lantern with a real candle -- without having a fire extinguisher handy! Wait. You were probably going to do that already, weren't you? Well, then. See? You're on your way to being an official peace-loving, free market-embracing anarchist already.

Enjoy your Halloween, and the mutual satisfaction of small acts of anarchistic charity.

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B.R. Merrick's picture
Columns on STR: 35

B.R. Merrick writes for "Strike The Root" and "A Voice for Men," is  proud to be a classical music reviewer at and iTunes, and in spite of the poisonous nature of television, God Himself will have to pry his DVDs of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” out of his cold, dead hands, under threat of eternal damnation.