1. It's entirely optional. Halloween is the Choose Your Own Adventure of festive days. This is the one holiday all year you can either celebrate or not and no one can judge you either way. Adults who are hip to the scene understand the desire to take a year off from buying a costume and decorating your house or cubicle, because every five years you need the night off to recharge your Halloween battery and make the other years more enjoyable. Just stay inside, turn off your lights and pretend not to be home. And there are a plethora of handy excuses for doing so: you can't afford a costume in this economy; you're trying to impress a fundamentalist Christian guy you met; you're saving up for a blow-out All Saints' Day.
Conversely, those who want to go the traditional route of celebrating this night of the macabre have the ready support of children everywhere, candy companies, costume manufacturers, pumpkin farmers, bars, retail stores of every kind and all media.
2. No family required. One thing Halloween is not is a day for seeing loved ones. Moreover, it's not a day for seeing your so-called loved ones and trying your best not to cram a drumstick down their throat (see Thanksgiving, Christmas, and National Drumstick Day). Even as little kids we're encouraged to celebrate this one with our friends, not our aunts, uncles or the half-brother who still owes us money for the last time he and his girlfriend weren't careful.
3. Explore the dark side. Who knows if our urges to be wicked and indulgent are biochemical impulses or metaphysical machinations of an adversarial spirit and his unholy comrades (that is, our fault or the Devil's)? Regardless, we're conditioned by polite society to resist certain inner drives 364 days a year, but not on this one. This night we dress as vampires, witches, sinfully sexy meter maids and the like. We binge on candy, alter our consciousnesses, set out to scare one another and maybe even partake in a séance to hear what the dead have to say.
On Halloween we're allowed to align ourselves with the opposing forces of nature, dance with the shadows of the waking world or even just rebel a little by playing those records our mothers used to warn us not to play … back when rock music was interesting enough to be controversial. But I digress.
4. Minimal religious and patriotic significance. While Samhain (not Glenn Danzig's former band) is very much alive and observed in pagan communities, to most Americans there is little pressure to schedule a trip to the local house of worship on what used to be All Hallows' Eve. That saidand better stillthere is no pressure to come up with a handy excuse to your more religious relatives for why you had to miss Mass/temple/the faith-based yoga Om-for-peace circle.
And for atheistic patriots whose high holy day is the Fourth of July, Halloween bears equally little obligation. It can't really be accused of being un-Americanleast especially to the rest of the world, who consider gluttony, excess and capitalism repulsively American traitsbut it has no real place in the U.S. history timeline. About the closest Halloween gets to being historically relevant is with the cartoonish president masks on sale at the costume store. But those masks are often worn more by bank robbers than trick-or-treaters anyway.
5. Free candy. Advantage: Halloween. No other holiday will ever dethrone this confectionary king. How can any human with functioning taste buds not fall to his knees on the one day that candy corn, Lemonheads, M&Ms, Snickers bars, Mary Janes, Mike and Ikes, Junior Mints, Milk Duds, Twizzlers, Butterfingers, Milky Ways, butterscotch discs, Gummy Bears, Good & Plentys, Dots, Goobers, Snow Caps, Rasinettes and even plain ol' raisins are as plentiful and free as oxygen? He can't.
All hail Halloween.