Commentary: Halloween builds local community

Guest Commentary

By Justin Cary, Mayor, Waterloo

I have vivid memories of Halloween in my home town.

I cherish memories of zombies shambling down the road, arm-in-arm with princesses. A wizard yelling, “ready or not, here I come,” sending aliens and superheroes running through the streets in all directions, playing an impromptu game of tag.

Then there was the candy. Gobs and gobs of candy, stuffed into buckets until they were nearly overflowing.

For one night in the town of a few hundred people where I grew up, kids flooded a blocked-off stretch of road to experience the fun and fright of Halloween.

Halloween in my home town was a magical event because of the lasting memories it gave me as a child.

These stuck with me and years later, as a young man, we rented an apartment on a particular street. Because of this, I learned how the adults brought this magic to life.

Lots of small donations were gathered through September and October. Boxes of candy were given to the residents along the street. The Fire Department set up a spot for cider and cocoa, the feed store became a haunted house, and I got to feed excited monsters that would arrive at my front door.

Homegrown traditions like these seem to be dying out. Kids are now either shuffled into formal gatherings or have migrated to the “rich neighborhoods” for an hour of supervised walking.

Not long ago I was talking with one of my neighbors about these things while waiting for our kids to get off the bus from school. Amid waves of nostalgia, we were telling each other about how things used to be in small towns like the ones we grew up in.

A couple of weeks ago these neighbors decided to take action. They made a list of games to organize, people that would help, and a vision of their idea, which they posted to Facebook. A local church reached out willing to help. Neighbors chimed in, and I offered my time and support.

I’ve seen momentum building to create an annual Halloween event in my neighborhood.

I hope this event grows. It is events like this that bring unity and a sense of community to towns like mine. It’s things like this that move us from being anonymous neighbors online to building relationships and traditions in real life where the community really happens.

– Justin Cary is mayor of Waterloo.