Halloween is my favorite holiday. It contains no obligations, just wild nighttime reveling. One can dress as one wants, revealing fantasies or hidden natures, stay out as late as one wants in the newly cool evening, and get candy from strangers. What could be better? Relatives do not show up at the door expecting dinner or gifts. There’s no church service involved (not for most people, anyway.) The Rocky Horror soundtrack can be heard playing all over town.

Our new boss at work asked a colleague if he was dressing up for Halloween, and he pulled himself into a rigid posture and replied with a straight face that he certainly was not, because it’s a pagan celebration. The boss turned to me to get a reaction, to find out if he was joking or not (he was), and I said “hell, yeah, that’s what makes it my favorite.” I’m not sure which response surprised him more.

Anyway. Halloween starts early at my house. By mid September, I’m thinking about costumes. By the first of October, we are planning the annual pilgrimage to the pumpkin patch. I celebrate Halloween the way other people do Christmas—I’ve been known to carve pumpkins for everyone on my block. The ten days of Halloween. I hang the ghost in the tree outside, I put the skeleton on the front door. I roast pumpkin seeds. Lots of pumpkin seeds.

The patch. It’s an annual tradition. We round up friends, neighbors, and family and drive an hour out to the country, to a farm that has hay rides and hot apple cider, corn mazes and a petting zoo. It is impossible to dress correctly for this trip. If you dress warmly, it will be sunny and hot; dress for mud, and the boots that you haven’t worn since last fall will give you blisters. Dress for a sunny afternoon, and the wind will come up, smelling vaguely of woodsmoke. Fortunately, you’ll be too busy with the pumpkins (Punkin punkin punkin!) to care.

One friend picks pumpkins for their stems. The smallest in our party always wants a HUGE pumpkin; the only restraint is that he must be able to carry it himself. Here’s a tip: if you find a pumpkin that you might like, that you are considering, don’t put it down. Someone else is sure to pick it up, and then you’ll be sure that it was the one, and no other pumpkin will measure up.

I always dress up. I own two witch's hats and a black velvet cape that I made years ago. Some years, I have one costume for the day and another for the evening. (I'm a teacher, so I can get away with costumes at work; in fact, I have a box of costumes in my classroom, to lend out, should the occasion arise.) When my hair was long, I braided it and alternated between being Pippi Longstocking and Wednesday Addams. After I cut my hair, I was Velma from Scooby Doo. Last year I was a ghost, in layers and layers of white gauze, and I refused to talk all morning. I just pointed to the blackboard with my long, white gloved fingers. Amazingly, my classes made it through without too much chaos. This year I will be Professor McGonnagall, of Harry Potter fame. I was searching in a consignment store yesterday for just the right brooch, and was amazed at the number of people who were just starting to think about What To Be For Halloween.

When I was a kid, I went in for the contests. I bobbed for apples, I estimated the number of candy corn in the jar, I carved jack ‘o lanterns. I won. I came home with jars of candy corn and prizes for my pumpkins. In college I made a John LennonImagine”-style pumpkin; the carved lines of long stringy hair, the round glasses, the sharp nose. It was one of my all time favorites. Last year I found an oddly heart-shaped pumpkin, turned it pointy-side up, and carved The Grinch. This year, I found a very square pumpkin—a blockhead—and it will become Charlie Brown. Every year, I carve one pumpkin with a big spider web and a black widow in the middle. Need any carving tools? I’ve got plenty to spare.