Halloween Ritual in NYC

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This is a little off-topic although it is about a ritual, the ritual of Halloween in Manhattan, and about giving – and getting – back.

Halloween in Manhattan is a date which I approach with equal measures of trepidation and excitement.  I’ve celebrated the holiday as a parent with young children since my oldest was 2 — 14 years ago — and it hasn’t stopped, with the raising of my 13 year old and now our youngest, who is five.  Before we left the house this year, I googled Trick or Treating in NY and came up with results about the concerns people have about celebrating the holiday in NY.  One or two respondents talked about kids who beg for candy in their own apartment buildings, or trick or treat at stores.  These people are missing the point of a Halloween spent in NY.  Nowhere do people get in the spirit of Halloween as they do here.  And of course its not only for children.  NY turns into a giant party, a place where anyone can realize a fantasy for a night.

For the past 14 years we’ve tramped around the environs of 22nd st between 8th and 9th avenues, where people in costume sit on the stoops of spookily decorated brownstones and give generously and smilingly.  This year, with only the five year old in tow, we thought we’d break new ground and so we venture downtown and east to 11th Street between 5th and 6th avenues.  This takes us across the path of the Greenwich Village Halloween parade on 6th and 7th aves.  As we venture south down 7th Ave from our apartment, we get into the Trick or Treating spirit with the friendly grocery store owners who, pretending to be frightened by our son’s ninja moves, generously give top shelf candy.  My son’s Trick or Treat radar soon becomes finely honed to anyone on the side of the street with a bucket or bag.  When we pass a group of homeless men huddled around a paper bag enclosing a bottle of rum, he runs toward them squealing “Trick or Treat”.   As my husband and I look on uncertainly, he is enfolded in their circle engaging them in a repartee about his ninja moves.   I can’t pull him away from the group and explain to him, right there, that they have nothing to offer him, that there is no Halloween loot there.  They are appreciating his moves…He is enjoying showing off to a captive audience.  Then, one of the men in the group hands my son a dollar bill.  I often give to men on the street, but mostly the spare change in my pocket and here was this man, whom  I’ve given small change to on occasion, giving my son a greenback.  Insisting that he take it…What could we do?  We took the dollar.  We offer candy from my son’s bag in return and he holds up his bottle of rum, saying he’s got all the candy he needs.  We move on, vowing to remember to give to him generously next time I see him on the street.  It wouldn’t be long.  Later, we saw the same man again walking down Greenwich Street.  He seemed to be enjoying the spirit of the night, where everyone was a little bit crazy like him and no one was being judged by the cut of their suit or the quality of their shoes.  Everyone is the same, bunny and fairy and hula dancer and bum, and no one is whom they seem to be on Halloween, the great equalizer.  My son and I pass this man, as we had so many times in the past without acknowledging each other, but tonight, we give each other high fives.  He fist bumps my five year old.   No longer another nameless homeless person asking for money, he has become my neighbor.  Isn’t it ironic that on a night when everyone tries to be someone else, that is when you can see who people really are.

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