Remember what Halloween meant to us when we were little?

October was a full-fledged holiday season to us, with as much magic and excitement in the atmosphere as there was during December or the last week of school. We exchanged costume ideas almost competitively with our friends, eager to dress up as the cooler or prettier character.

We couldn’t wait until the night when our parents said we could go costume-shopping (or, for some of us, when our parents or grandparents started making our costumes). We relished browsing the costume selection at Toys R Us, comparing the merits of dressing up as something cute or glamorous versus something unique or scary. That was before we even took the price factor into account, though our parents probably found subtle — or not-so-subtle — ways to steer our inclinations into cheaper waters. When we found the perfect costume, it was like finding the perfect engagement ring; we just knew it was meant for us.

At home, we modeled our costumes, determining any alterations that needed to be made, trying to ignore the fact that they were itchy or smelled funny (those masks were the worst offenders). We couldn’t wait to report our Halloween identity to our friends, or to show off our costumes at our class party.

And then there was Halloween night itself. We watched through the windows for the first trick-or-treaters and waited for the first ring of the doorbell, because that meant it was late enough to start changing into our costumes. Some of our moms fussed over whether we’d be warm enough, and we’d roll our eyes and insist that we would be. We set out with either our parents and siblings or a group of friends, some of whom would join us when we got to their houses. We had our flexible routines, the houses we traditionally visited first, the houses we knew would give the best candy, the houses we knew would give us toothbrushes, the rich-people streets that boasted the coolest decorations, the people who would invite us in and give us cider or hot chocolate, the people who told us to take as much as we wanted, and that one house that always had a “corpse” lying in the bushes that would only jump out at us when we’d decided it wasn’t going to this time.

We’d start out with so much energy and enthusiasm, but eventually realize that we were indeed cold, that our costumes were just too uncomfortable, that our feet were tired, and we really didn’t need any more candy anyway. The time it took us to realize this got shorter every year.

Dumping out our candy at home was often the best part. Lots of us would sort it into piles all over the living-room floor and compare hauls with our siblings or friends. That dang Tootsie Roll pile was always the biggest and the least touched (though a few people at least had the courtesy to give us the flavored kind), and most of the candy-bar piles consisted of “fun-size” bars (whatever candy-bar company originated that label either had a sick sense of humor or thought kids were really confused about the word “fun”). We gasped and showed it off when we stumbled across a king-size bar or a rare treat like a popcorn ball. We ate the best candy first, and over the next week would subsist on our remaining Snickers and Three Musketeers.

The point is that, while we wax poetic about the “true spirit” of Christmas and other holidays and Halloween is dismissed as a pagan holiday for children, Goths and heathens, there is also a “true spirit” of Halloween. On the one hand, for all the gruesomeness and tastelessness Halloween often represents, many of us might also associate it with a certain innocence and some of our best childhood memories. Back then, Halloween captured our imaginations. It was about becoming someone else for one night of the year, sharing that experience with friends and family, venturing fearlessly through the streets after dark, feeling a sense of belonging and community as neighbors and strangers alike joined us on the streets or beamed at us when they opened their doors to our outstretched hands.

Sitting at home and watching our slasher movies seems kind of lame by comparison.

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