A lot has changed about Halloween traditions since I was a kid. Back then, we would wait until dark, grab a pillowcase and walk the streets until our bags were too heavy or, as we got older, stole a goodnight kiss from our date. Now the holiday is far more elaborate.
Costume shops open in early September with more decor for sale than treats. On or around Oct. 31, entire neighborhoods close the streets to traffic and police patrols abort any rowdy behavior. Children of all ages dress up in the garb of their alter egos, collect candy and go to haunted houses and parties. I don't get any trick-or-treaters at my house because they all go to the "cool" streets, where there are hundreds of others (most on a total sugar rush) to look at and be with. One such street is a few blocks away from mine, but it's another world. I miss seeing children in costumes coming to my door but always leave a bowl of candy outside, just in case.
Back in the day, we seldom put as much work into our costumes as kids do now. My Superman outfit consisted of a bath towel as a cape and an awkward "S" drawn on an old pajama top worn over my mom's panty hose (don't go anywhere with that). Obviously, I was not a cool kid, but I had fun -- and that's what it's still all about.
Most people still want to be their idols for one night. I'm waiting for the guy in a T-shirt that says, "Hi, I'm Simon Cowell. Give me some candy, or I'll hurt your feelings." And there's nothing wrong with a little fantasy. We adults can use a bit of fantasy too, which may be why so many parents today have become more involved in Halloween: they want to play too!
Some people I know put in a ton of effort to make their haunted house the best on their block. Others express their creativity in the treats they hand out. One family last year made cotton candy in their front yard. (I suspect they were making margaritas in the back).
At this time in our country, we need as much uplifting as we can get, so celebrating Halloween is emotionally healthy. I often counsel couples to put aside their issues for the holiday -- or for holidays in general -- and either stay home and give out candy together or get dressed up and go out themselves. Of course, you can always do both. Hey, it's Halloween: Let's pretend and be happy for a few hours.
So, give yourself the treat of being Indiana Jones or Laura Croft, and don't trick yourself out of a good time because it's a "kids holiday." Go to a pumpkin patch, ride a Shetland pony and have a great time.
Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, Calif., is the author, most recently, of "100 Ways to Boost Your Self-Confidence: Believe in Yourself and Others Will, Too." E-mail him at Barton@BartonGoldsmith.com.