Bzzt. The door swings open to the grinning face of your elderly neighbor and you study the wrinkles around her eyes. “Trick or Treat,” you repeat, and she gladly picks up a dish of candy. You’re dressed as a superhero, or ninja turtle, or princess or fairy tale creature, and she starts gabbing about the constellations in the sky and her astrological sign. You have to sit and listen, but all you want is for her to place the Skittles in your pillow case or plastic pumpkin so that you and your parents can run off to the next house. Did you hear? The O’Reilly’s are handing out king size Milky Ways this year.
Halloween represents the different stages of our lives and the ever-changing fads we go through as we grow in size and bad ideas. For the first three Halloweens I can recall, I dressed as Spiderman — Peter Parker’s alter ego. As kids, the holiday consists of dressing up as our favorite movie characters and an unforeseen leniency from our parents about our sugar intake. As college students, the holiday involves being stingy with our clothing and unforeseen independence in our alcohol intake.
As we enter our tweens, we eternally hurt our parents by telling them we don’t need them to walk with us at night anymore. We’re no longer scared of the dark — night lights were stowed away last winter. Despite our parents’ better judgement and shattered nostalgia, they let us roam the neighborhood or city blocks with our friends.
The newfound independence doesn’t stop here, as we’re granted the right to carve pumpkins because our parents finally trust us to hold knives. We dress in skeleton masks to scare the new generation of Peter Parker alter egos. The O’Reilly’s are out of town this year and leave a bowl with the typical “take 2” sign, but you don’t believe in bad karma and sprint as fast as your 12 year-old legs can carry you after emptying the bowl.
On campus, the leaves have started to fall off the trees and late night walks from the library remind us of why we used to be scared of the dark. College has coined the term Halloweekend, dragging the holiday night into a week-long bash. Frats will host parties sporting themed drinks and sweaty dance floors, and our parents reminisce even more about the times we held their hands to cross the street packed with trick-or-treaters. Now, we replace our sugary piles of candy stolen from neighbors’ bowls with the sugary mixed drinks taken from mysteriously old coolers.
Halloweens pass and our interests change. I used to trade Almond Joys and any dark chocolate for Reese’s and sour candy. Now I trade small talk with the girl that’s out of my league: “I like … costumes.” In high school, we abandon the nighttime strolls that earned us treats for small house parties. Maybe we didn’t want to at first, but it’s hard to ignore the new kids at our schools. Crushes develop, and maybe a little liquid courage could help us say how we feel.
But the romantic interest spills over into our modern college parties, and probably into post-grad festivities as well. Who knows? Maybe your workplace flirt will be at the office party. As we get older, our focus shifts from food to drink and jack-o-lanterns to the people we can’t stop staring at in class. We change based on the social context we’re in and the people we’re surrounded by. Our adolescent desires for sugar rushes turn to the post-puberty, college stereotype of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. Though, the genre of music has adapted with the times — now we blast Big Bootie Mix and Young Thug.
My brother is now a working stiff, and costume efforts are limited to the annual office shindig and couples’ parties, if you’re lucky enough to be with the person that’s out of your league (my brother isn’t). It may not be until we have kids of our own that we remember the joy of dressing up as our heroes and favorite fictional characters.
But even as we get older, we may not grow out of all our fads — I’ve gone as Peter Parker for the last two years. Maybe I stick with this costume to hold on to a small semblance of my childhood Octobers, maybe it’s because I think I look good in fake glasses. Whatever the reason, I hold on to this small, nostalgic reminder for the Halloweens to come. The holiday is important to us for candy, for parties and maybe one day for the kids of our own who will inevitably break our hearts when they grow out of thinking their parents are cool (not for me, I’ll always be the cool dad).
Before we know it, we’ll be that elderly face looking down at future Cornell party-goers, talking about the constellations and our astrological signs. Until then, I suppose we’ll revel in our remaining time on this campus, drinking themed beverages and grooving on sweaty dance floors.
Aaron Stella is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stellin’ It Like It Is runs every other Friday this semester.