Halloween is supposed to be a dark and creepy occasion. But to me, it is filled with sweetness and light. Children come to our door and we feed them — with a smile. We tell them how scary/beautiful/awesome they look and send them on their way to neighbors who will do exactly the same.
We do not ask for any financial disclosures from their families. When a little Princess Elsa shows up on our doorstep, we don't suggest that if her parents couldn't afford their own candy, they had no business having children. We don't lecture the mother of the young ninja about how our grandmother made her own taffy from scratch rather than demanding handouts. We are just … well, nice.
When we talk about child poverty, there can be an awful lot of judgment about the parents' responsibility, industry and resourcefulness. If we find the parents at all wanting in any of these areas, many think it is perfectly justifiable to deny the children help. In fact, people will actually accuse you of encouraging bad behavior if you do help.
But not on Halloween. On Halloween, we're generous to any child who asks — simply because they asked. So what exactly is different about that one night each year? How can we make this magic last longer?
It's the costumes, of course. Kids hide their own identity behind the masks and the face paint. So they cease to be Ben or Katie from down the street. They are anonymous children. Because we can't place them, our minds fill in the blank with children familiar to us. This Every Child is very much like Our Child — son, daughter, granddaughter, favorite nephew. We respond generously and with good cheer, just as we would to the kids we care about most.
Perhaps giving kids costumes to wear year-round would be a great anti-poverty program. It would encourage adults to empathize with children from all sorts of backgrounds. Perhaps we'd decide that every baby should have clean diapers, a safe crib and a library of board books. Every child should go to a great school. Every teen should have access to a job that builds skills and creates some savings for college. We'd do these things, because every kid would remind us of our own — just some cutie in Velcro sneakers pretending to be Dora the Explorer.
But really, we shouldn't need the costumes to see that kids are kids. The challenge for advocates is to help people make that connection all year long. I can assure you that poor children squeal at the sight of puppies, like to play with wooden spoons and prefer ice cream to lima beans. They stand a little taller when they get praise. They love their parents. They rejoice on snow days.
In circumstance, they are different from the kids in your life. In essence, they, however, they are the same. The world changes for the better every time someone grasps that basic truth.
I always have fun admiring the costumes and handing out candy on Halloween. I hope you do, too. And I hope you'll savor just how good it feels to light up a child's world with a small kindness. There are plenty of opportunities to have that feeling all year long.