Halloween is approaching. I can tell, because my neighbors have decorated their yards.
When I was a child, we didn't really decorate for Halloween. We did carve smiling pumpkins and set them on the porch with candles inside them. We did dress up as princesses and fairies and pirates and go door-to-door, filling our pillowcases with candy. Sometimes Mom, who was a teacher and had a stash of seasonal decorations in the attic, hung a cartoonish paper skeleton on the front door. But we didn't decorate our lawns, trees, and windows with gruesome likenesses of dead, dismembered bodies.
That's what my neighbors do.
The house a few doors down from me is actually locally famous for its Halloween display. It features rotting corpses, bleeding Chuckie dolls, and realistic rubber rats feeding on body parts. There are hands, half-stripped of flesh, reaching up out of the ground from behind Styrofoam gravestones. My neighbor starts decorating in mid-September, and by mid-October, amateur and professional photographers are crowding the corner, documenting the carnage from every angle. Cars slow down so their occupants can gape at the orange-and-black lights hanging from the trees. The local newspaper actually calls around the neighborhood, looking for quotations from neighbors to use in their coverage of the display.
This house is right across the street from our local elementary school. For two years, my daughter refused to walk past the "scary house" during the fall, instead making me walk the long way around the block to take her to school. She had nightmares that featured vignettes from the phony graveyard on the corner. I asked my neighbor, in the most polite way I could think of, whether it might be a good idea to tone things down, given the proximity of the school and the number of small kids in the area.
The response? Halloween was a favorite holiday, allowing my neighbor an opportunity to decorate with abandon. Scaling back just because some local kids were freaked out was just not part of the plan.
It's been almost fifteen years now, and I've gotten used to the seasonal carnage. My kids are no longer frightened, but simply regard the decorations as a massive display of terrible taste. Most of the neighbors I have talked to about it agree that it's awful, but they would never complain about it, publicly or privately. Doing so might jeopardize neighborly relations or hurt feelings.
I agree with my Halloween-enthusiast neighbors that they have a right to do whatever they want with their lawn. I just wish that what they wanted could be more about the fun - the costumes and the candy - than about death and destruction. Halloween, after all, is all about children. It's about wearing costumes, walking around the neighborhood with your friends, waving a flashlight, crunching through the fallen leaves. It's about knowing there's one night a year when you can eat peanut butter cups for dinner if that's what you want. Adulthood and mortality come fast enough for all of us. Can't we just enjoy a little innocence for a while longer?