How Halloween Helps Us Put Politics Aside

Right before election day, we get a needed distraction

An illustration of kids going trick-or-treating.

illustration by lars leetaru

October was always my favorite month. Sweater weather, piles of leaves, and herds of kids in bright jerseys chasing soccer balls through the cool grass. This year, though, it feels uneasily close to the first week of November. Rather than celebrating the democratic process with lively debate, it seems easier to stealthily avoid speaking to anyone whose allegiances lie with a rival political party. This becomes especially awkward when those mystifying people on the other side of the electoral divide include, for example, your in-laws.

Yet isn’t Halloween the perfect détente before Election Day? A time to set aside partisan politics and gleefully embrace the pursuit of happiness by dressing up as Wonder Woman or Vladimir Putin. (Amazon offers several Putin masks in both latex and paper, but abs are not included.)

Afraid we are heading toward a dystopian future? Wear a costume inspired by The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s  all right to get literal: Last year, plenty of people went to parties dressed in newspaper stamped with the word “Fake.” Our news cycle shifts fast enough that if you masquerade as a member of President Trump’s Cabinet, you should keep your eye on Twitter for any last-minute costume changes.

When I was 5 years old, I insisted on dressing as a red—no politicial agenda, just my favorite color—ghost for Halloween. My patient grandmother explained that nobody would realize I was a ghost if I ran around in a red sheet. So, she sewed letters on the front of the costume that read “GHOST.”

That night, crossing a neighbor’s yard, I was suddenly pummeled to the ground by a large, decorative ghost that had been flung from the attic, suspended on a wire. The piece de resistance of our neighbors’ yearly Halloween spectacle, this bulky contraption was engineered by two brothers who hadn’t realized that wrapping a white sheet around a basketball and sending it off a steep roof could actually knock a kindergartner out cold.

A gaggle of neighbors rushed to my side. Nobody asked me if the red costume signified Republican (or Communist) tendencies. Everyone assumed, as did I, that it was an accident. This was a pretty solid-blue Minneapolis neighborhood, thick with DFL voters, but that didn’t mean anyone would actually whack someone’s kid on the head for dressing like the ghost of the GOP.

Remember that we still live in a world where you can saunter down the sidewalks at twilight, inhale the fragrance of late-autumn leaves, and cheerfully encourage your children to walk up to a stranger’s house, flash a smile, and politely ask for candy. Somehow, this holds true even when the yard signs demonstrate loyalty to a party you dislike so much that you’d rather eat a hundred boxes of your kid’s reject trick-or-treating stash (circus peanuts, raisins, those weird black-and-orange-wrapped taffies) than cast a vote in their favor.

Watch the kids ring the bell under a canopy of fake cobwebs, their faces glowing in the flicker of jack-o’-lanterns. A puff of dry ice floats like mist. Watch those strangers, your sworn political enemies—who, incidentally, seem pretty gung-ho about Halloween—spring from the shadows to rain down a bounty of malt balls and peanut butter cups on your young.

All out of tradition, or maybe just kindness. All without quarrel. All without expectation of anything from you in return except for a smile, a wave, a have a good night! Because the northern frost is already in the air, you might hear, as you walk away, a stay warm out there for all the fairies and superheroes shivering, without coats, under the hopeful moonlight.