I pretend not to notice as he creeps around the side of the kitchen island and aims his little hand at me…his thumb, forefinger, and pinkey sticking out, the other two fingers curved back into his palm. “Gotcha!” he half-whispers, smiling his sly, playful, dimpled smile. “UAAAHH!” I shriek, “Not your web! You got me again!” And he giggles with delight, then runs away. Practice makes perfect, and my little Spider-man’s got two weeks to work on his webs before Halloween.
I like Halloween – when it doesn’t upset my kids or me. And yes, the bar is low for that. I admit it – I hate the dark side of the holiday. If we could get rid of anything associated with blood, gore, violence, scariness, and fascination with anything related to that macabre stuff, it would be wonderful. But since I know that won’t happen, I just focus on the lighthearted, wholesome aspects which lead to joyful memories of the fall season – trick or treating, pumpkin carving, and of course, innocent kids’ costumes.
Costume selection is always interesting because each year I’m curious to see what appeals to the kids and why. My oldest son (now 11), has, for 6 of the last 7 years been some kind of warrior. If a costume expresses an inner desire, then perhaps he wants to be tougher than he feels he is. My 8-year old daughter’s tastes vary. In recent years, she’s been a princess, a cat, a glamorous witch, a female warrior cartoon character, and a pirate. This year, she had trouble deciding between a vampire and an angel. I sensed she just liked the idea of being a vampire, without really understanding its full import. So I showed her costumes and vampire makeup. The fake blood disgusted her, and she settled on ‘angel,’ and a full-length gown. In the end, it was really about the gold and white dress. But, I was quite happy with her choice.
Whether a person wants to try on a whole new identity, or express some hidden side of themselves, no one ever puts on a Halloween costume and then hangs out at home all alone. The fun is in circulating amongst other people incognito, or somewhat so. Everyone wants to be noticed in their chosen garb, and to have a good time wearing it for a little while. And sometimes a person feels even more brazen in their costume – willing to step out boldly in ways they wouldn’t otherwise – just because the garb gives them added confidence as they “become” the character they portray. I saw this firsthand with my oldest back when he was two and chose to be Buzz Lightyear. His costume had inflatable wings that attached to his back, and I have photos of him walking up to complete strangers with a huge smile, bag out and ready for handfuls of candy.
Why do we do this? Why do we try to be noticed? I actually think we are looking for something divine. We want to experience someone seeing us not only for who we are day-to-day, but also as who we wish we could be, or think we might be – a better or alternate version of ourselves. No matter how much time we spend with our family, friends, or acquaintances, we sense the truth deep in our souls that none of these people can actually fill our deepest need – to be fully and wholly known.
So, a costume is not merely a covering up – it is also a reaching out. It’s a way of saying, “Will you still love me – like this?” Too often, the costumed are not yet aware of why they want to be noticed. The psalmist says it perfectly:
O God, you are my God–
for you I long!
For you my body yearns;
for you my soul thirsts,
Like a land parched, lifeless,
and without water.