Ah, Halloween. It’s a rather strange holiday when you think about it, and for me, at least, a conflicted one as well.
When I was little, it was very exciting to dress up and go around the neighborhood collecting candy and other goodies – in those days, we even sometimes go homemade treats like popcorn balls or candied apples. Of course I also loved coming home and emptying my bag on the living room floor to see what I’d gotten for loot: Kit Kats, candy corn, Charleston Chews, Smartees (one of my favorites), M&M’s, etc. And back then, I didn’t really worry about eating it.
When I got older, we also had Halloween parties with all of my friends and my brother’s friends. We’d listen to silly music like “Monster Mash”, play games, and go through our somewhat bizarre piñata ritual. This involved sitting in a circle and taking turns shaking the piñata for candy (three shakes each turn), not hitting it. This was because the piñata, a donkey, was homemade, and the process was laborious enough that Mom wanted to get the maximal life span out of it – which we did, even if the piñata got rather sad-looking.
Those are my good, happy memories of Halloween. The not-so-good, of course, revolved around the candy. On the one hand, it was great to be able to legitimately ask for and get candy – it was actually expected and somewhat encouraged. But once I turned eleven, I began to be very self-conscious about it. Did those giving out the candy judge me for my weight? Did they give me less than others, or did they think they should?
And then when I had the candy, I didn’t know how to go about eating it. Since I had acquired it by legitimate means, could I eat it openly, or would that still draw disapproval? Should I horde it to make it last? Should I gorge on it to make room for the other holiday foods? It all proved much more emotionally draining to decipher than I would have liked. Also difficult was that by then I couldn’t easily find costumes that fit. Halloween stopped being fun.
Older still, since I could no longer go trick or treating, if I wanted to have some of my favorite Halloween candy (particularly candy corn, which was unavailable other times of year), I had to buy a whole bag – and eat all of it myself. In secret, feeling ashamed and guilty at every piece.
When I started losing weight, particularly the second year in, I was a bit shocked to discover that the candy had lost its hold over me. I ate some of what a co-worker brought in, more out of habit than real desire, but after a piece or two I discovered I didn’t want any more. Similarly, when I bought candy in preparation for trick-or-treaters who never materialized, I didn’t feel secretly glad, knowing that now I could keep all that candy to myself. Instead, I stared at the mass of sugar, wondering what I was going to do with it. (Bring it to work, it turns out.)
Then five years ago, I went to my first Halloween party in well over a decade, and I had no idea what to wear. I hadn’t been able to attend my friend’s mask-making party (a pity, since then I could have seen her first meeting with the man who is now her husband), and I didn’t have time or inclination to buy a costume I might never wear again. In the end I made a Zorro-like mask and wore my sleeveless red bridesmaid’s dress from a recent wedding. It was as much a costume as anything else, because at the time I still felt a bit of a stranger to myself when I considered that I could wear a size 6 (!) sleeveless fitted dress, and look good in it.
These days, Halloween and I have a truce and don’t disturb each other. I’ve largely forgotten about it this year and certainly haven’t felt tempted to buy candy. I prefer to focus on the older meaning of the holiday, and finding other ways to feed the ghosts of my beloved dead.