As the sun sets today, neighborhoods all over the nation will come alive with roving bands of youngsters who will knock on doors and receive candy and trinkets. It’s an odd tradition; youngsters dress in costume — often as a favorite cartoon or movie character or, as an old standby, a witch, ghost or goblin. They’ll step onto the porches of people their mom and dad don’t know and accept candy from strangers.

Isn’t this what our parents always warned us against?

We long for those innocent days when a youngster could wander freely through his own neighborhood without fear of being touched by life’s more sinister elements. Those were times when neighbors knew the families who lived nearby, and everyone looked out for everyone else’s children. Halloween activities took place close to home and, often, without parental supervision.

In her seminal novel “To Kill A Mockingbird,” Harper Lee heightens tension in a scene in which Atticus Finch’s children, Scout and Jem, are attacked by framing the event in the context of a Halloween outing, an unthinkable act of violence invading an innocent pastime. The result is a chillingly frightful chapter of a timeless classic.

The childish revelry from years past is gone for good. A bogeyman the likes of which attacked Scout and Jem is no longer an abstraction. Most parents accompany their children on a limited trick-or-treat run to the homes of friends and family. Others will attend fall festivals at their churches or schools, or have their own Halloween parties at home.

Once we took pleasure in creating our own fright. Now the world as it is has become too scary for such diversions.

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