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October 31, 2007


As I jogged with my daughter and her friends for more than a mile of candy-harvesting along busy sidewalks near our house, I began to wonder at how we've come to love this event even though its origins are in fear of darkness and the unknown.

At first I wondered if Halloween is so much fun just because of the costumes -- and there is that, because the kids start out being excruciatingly cute and then branch away to take up outfits ranging from mere old clothes and greasepaint to elaborate costumes. It's only marginally appropriate for kids past sixth grade to trick or treat, but those who do (generally girls in my neighborhood) often wear the most striking outfits.

On the other hand, Halloween is fraught with so many threats that few parents allow their kids to go out on their own anymore: There's the poison-candy thing, the abduction thing, the traffic-safety-for-kids-on-sidewalks thing, just to name a few (300 miles and 30 years ago, it was the burning-tires-on-the-bridge thing; are we doing better now?) Would we celebrate in this baroque, expensive way just for a chance for the kids to wear a costume?

But as a grandfatherly fellow quizzed my squad of girls about "what they were" with apparent delight, I thought that Halloween is almost the only chance that adults have to interact with unfamiliar kids in their own neighborhoods. It's not permitted to talk casually to a child you meet on the street, let alone give him something just to be friendly. (A couple of years ago I courted arrest by quizzing a child who sat on the curb while I was chasing my runaway daughter; the kid flatly told me to go away and I noticed her dad on the porch, looking belligerent. Merely offering a child a ride home after a bicycle accident, say, is a misdemeanor).

But on this one night, children and householders dress up to be as horrible as possible to one another -- and then set aside their fears. Go figure.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.