It’s a brittle night in October and the five witches arrive on a cold, otherworldly gust of wind, like quintuplets from hell. They hold hands while their wispy skirts billow in the night, leaning over a bubbling cauldron. Every time we pass the witches on our evening walks, I point them out to my family. We wonder who they’re cursing and wish them success in their incantations, grinning at the thought of this familiar and beloved neighborhood landmark. I don’t know the names of the neighbors who grace us with this coven every October, but I think of them as the Harpy House on the Corner.
Just down the street from the Harpy House is the Spider House, where giant arachnids spread their great legs all over the exterior siding, hunched bodies seemingly squirming to pry windows open. And across from the school a block from us is a hangman’s tree, where a bloody-gowned woman swings during storms. The non-scary neighbors among us feature grinning jack-o-lanterns and mum-kins, pumpkin-shaped pots housing overflowing chrysanthemums, on their front porches. Some have blow-up black cats who arch their backs on the lawn. Others pepper their doors with ghost-wreaths.
I didn’t grow up in a Halloween-loving neighborhood. We didn’t often decorate for the holidays ourselves, and sometimes even skipped the candy-hand-out altogether — I know! Travesty! Halloween came and went without much fanfare. So when I first arrived in my current community as an adult with a wide-eyed three-year-old in tow, I marveled at the array of decorations, from gigantic (20-feet-tall!) skeletons to glowing orange porch lights, that would pop up every Halloween. I was easily charmed. My inaugural HOA Facebook post said something to the effect of, “Thumbs-up on the decorations, y’all!”
I have always liked our neighbors, as a whole. They’re a generous, fun-loving bunch. The kind who will share their overflowing garden bounty and wave when they see you walking. But on Halloween? I just adore my neighbors. They are game for anything. Trunk or Treat at the local school becomes an all-out event, with decked-out, themed cars and apple cider stands. We’re all at fever pitch in excitement for the holiday. And it makes my neighborhood feel so, so special.
What is it, exactly, about the spooky season that lights me up from the inside? Why does my heart beat faster every time I see a neighbor on their ladder, stringing stretched cotton “webs” from the spindles of their porch? Of course, it’s such a joy to witness the fascination in kids when they peer at their familiar streets, only to see a magical and lightly scary wonderland before their eyes.
But I think what is most endearing to me is the image of my neighbors — grown adults, and many of them parents like me — scrambling to whip up these haunted scenes as soon as the leaves change colors. They are just so zealous, in the best way. Sure, they do it for the kids. But maybe, just maybe, they do it for themselves too? And there’s a certain vulnerability to that shared excitement in adults, which will never cease to feel like a gift, a treasure, in a society where so many of us remain guarded in our daily lives.
I know I feel a whirl of joy when I pull the large bin of Halloween decorations out of storage. Our family turns on “Monster Mash” as we place skulls on our bookshelves, ceramic monogrammed pumpkins on the dining room table, giant spiders on our porch rails. I DIY’d a Pac-Man-themed doormat that read “Hey, Boos!” and, endlessly amused by it, I proceeded to keep it on my porch for the entire year. It made me happy every time a neighbor would call, “Love your spiders!” when they saw us sitting on the steps.
Halloween, in its current, commercial incarnation, is mostly a child’s holiday. But I also argue it’s a holiday for those who are children at heart. Recently, a seasonal Spirit Halloween superstore opened near us, signaling The Start of Spooky Times. My daughter dragged us through the doors and though it was only August, the warehouse was packed. Shoppers had their arms full of Ouija-themed mugs and Hocus Pocus signage. They were trying on tangled wigs and brandishing plastic scythes. Everyone shrieked in horrified delight at the motion-sensing, 8-feet Grim Reaper who began to rise off the ground if an unsuspecting soul got too close. The kids were jumping up and down in excitement. The adults couldn’t stop the growing spread of the smiles on their faces.
We children-at-heart have too few opportunities to exhibit our creativity, our spirit, our relentless draw towards silliness. Who wouldn’t welcome another moment to get excited and ridiculous over something as harmlessly fearsome as a robotic zombie lurching towards you in the dead of night? The best part is that we get to do it together, as a community.
Thao Thai is a writer and editor based out of Ohio, where she lives with her husband and daughter. Her work has been published in Kitchn, Eater, Cubby, The Everymom, cupcakes and cashmere, and other publications. Her debut novel, Banyan Moon, comes out in 2023 from HarperCollins. Follow her on Instagram and sign up for her newsletter.