This feels weirdly unpatriotic and definitely fun-killing, but I’m just going to admit it: I hate Halloween.
Why hate Halloween?
1. I’m pretty sure it’s a fake holiday.
2. My children’s candy consumption, questionable during the rest of the year, becomes impossible to monitor and possibly life-threatening for 48 hours.
3. Random people wearing masks ring my doorbell in the dark when no one is home but me and our big dopey dogs, who may as well be wearing signs that say (with apologies to W.B. Yeats), “There are no strangers only friends I haven’t met and I know I love you already so please scratch my belly.”
4. The decorations. Oh, the decorations! For years I’ve wanted to opt out of Halloween, the way you can opt out of the vision-care plan at work, because the sight of all those decorations hurts me, both aesthetically and psychically. And every year it gets more out of hand. All I can say is, it’s a good thing Edward Gorey died before he had to see fake orange spider webbing coating every privet hedge in suburban America.
Did you know that, according to the National Retail Federation, Americans are projected to spend $7.4 billion on Halloween this year? Including $350 million on costumes for pets? I’m just guessing, but I suspect my dogs would rather I donate their costume money to a pet-rescue organization. Oh, never mind. What the dogs and I definitely agree on is that the decoration situation is a problem, particularly when measured by my patented decoration-to-holiday-significance ratio.
Let me explain. Every holiday has a unique decoration-to-significance ratio. Take Christmas, for example. Very significant to many people, and lots and lots of decorations. So basically a ratio of 1:1. Thanksgiving: very significant to lots of people, not many decorations. So 1:20, give or take. Fourth of July: significant, not a lot of decorations. Ratio: 3:50.
Halloween? What are we celebrating on Halloween? Can anybody tell me? Type “What does Halloween celebrate?” into Google and you’re confronted with “the triduum of Allhallowtide,” “the devil” and “the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain.” So basically nobody knows, not even the Internet. Hence my fake-holiday suspicion, and calculation that Halloween’s decoration-to-significance ratio is 37,000:1. Which means that when my neighbor with the generator-powered blow-up jack-o’-lantern thingy with black cats rotating inside fires up his yearly tribute to the holiday he can’t explain, I just want to close my eyes and get on the next flight to Aruba.
But this year I was given a Halloween miracle. Our oldest son’s university scheduled Family Weekend to begin on–wait for it–Oct. 31. Perfect! For a moment, I was elated that I didn’t need to go all the way to Aruba to skip Halloween. But … but … but: we also have a child who is 7, i.e., in his prime trick-or-treating years. And although there was a time, back in the pre-helicopter-parenting age, when Family Weekend was merely Parents’ Weekend, now that it’s been rebranded, the entire nuclear unit must attend or risk getting reported to the family-values police. But what sort of institute of higher learning schedules Family Weekend on Halloween? Maybe it’s an ivory-tower machination so multilayered and clever that people of average intelligence like me can’t possibly understand it. Regardless, I just can’t picture our little guy attending the Friday-night dinner and lecture in his Tron costume.
Am I exaggerating to say that this felt just like Sophie’s Choice? Maybe a bit. But making the right decision, pitting Tron against his older brother, with sentiments of I-now-hate-Halloween-even-more clouding my brain, seemed impossible.
And then I remembered when our college sophomore, our oldest, was 7. That Halloween I rushed home from the office to help him change into his costume, then watched him proudly march in the elementary-school parade. It was one of the highlights of the school year. I made vegetarian chili for my friend Sharene’s annual post-trick-or-treating party, which featured a giant backyard maze made from tall wooden stakes and endless rolls of thick black plastic that took weeks to assemble. When it got dark, the kids would lose themselves in the maze, whooping with delight. It was magic.
The maze is now just a memory, and most of the kids who raced through it are in college. Including my oldest, suddenly so grown up and full of wisdom that he advised us to skip Family Weekend for the sake of his 7-year-old brother. He knows that our trick-or-treating days are numbered. And as much as I truly, truly hate Halloween–the fake orange spider webbing and generator-powered decorations and strangers who ring the doorbell even after I’ve turned off the front porch light–I suppose I know it too.
This appears in the October 27, 2014 issue of TIME.