It was the best medical advice I’ve heard in a long time. Wednesday afternoon, as Dr. Nirav Shah neared the end of his weekly COVID-19 briefing, Brian Sullivan of WABI in Bangor posed a question that had little to do with the pandemic but a lot to do with kids’ tummies.

The topic was Halloween. “Medical opinion, Dr. Shah,” Sullivan queried. “Better off to eat a little bit of candy a couple days in a row, or a lot of candy all at once?”

The director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention smiled and, Dr. Shah being Dr. Shah, first used the opportunity to note that Halloween can be celebrated safely this evening, provided that when you go to someone’s front door, you “don’t get all up in their faces.”

“In terms of candy consumption,” Shah continued, “my overall general approach to candy is essentially … the more amount of candy you can consume, within reason, is the right way to go.”

Right answer. How can you not like a doctor who, when faced with a choice between prudent restraint and an all-out sugar high, advises us all to go nuts?

Which, now more than ever, is what Halloween is all about.

We’ll dispense with the history of the holiday, which goes back more than 1,000 years to when ancient Christians in Ireland and Scotland celebrated All Hallows’ Eve as a way to ring in All Saints’ Day on Nov. 1. For all its spooky mythos, Halloween in the 21st century is less religious rite and more the perfect prescription for these uneasy times.

It’s a night when we all go outside for no other reason than to walk our kids around the block and knock on our neighbors’ doors. A night when the things that divide us dissolve into so many witches, rabbits and dinosaurs – to name the top three costumes for this year as cataloged by Google. A night when mask wearing is just plain fun, not a personal statement on how seriously (or not) you’re taking the pandemic.

Writing last year in Psychology Today, psychiatrist and self-described “culture shrink” Jean Kim called Halloween “a strong outlet for people’s ‘id,’ the impulsive pleasurable dark side of our personalities and human nature.”

“Halloween only lasts for a brief time, once a year,” Kim wrote. “And in the right context, it can be a relatively safe and fun outlet for people to release and share what we all have in common … our ongoing struggle to survive against difficult situations, and our common vulnerability as human beings.”

Translation: It’s our great escape. A chance to throw off the shackles that bind us and revel in the community of it all.

My most memorable Halloween is the one that never happened. I was 9 years old and my family had just moved into a new town. In the days leading up to Oct. 31, I was giddy at the prospect of joining a couple of newfound friends to roam the still-unfamiliar neighborhood, my “new kid” status safely concealed behind a plastic visage of Frankenstein.

But alas, I woke up that morning with a mild fever. I stayed in bed all day, praying I’d be good to go by nightfall. Then, as the sun set and my brothers and sisters reveled in the pre-trick-or-treat bedlam, Mom pulled the thermometer out of my mouth and somberly announced, “You’re 102. Back to bed.”

I gazed for hours out my bedroom window that evening, blinking back my tears of deprivation while the other kids rambled about. Never had live felt so unfair.

Another highlight: In high school one year, a friend threw a Halloween party at her palatial home – its size directly proportional to the very large, very Roman Catholic family who inhabited it. My best friend and I showed up as Jesus the Son and God the Father. The hostess’s parents were less than amused.

Then came parenthood. Escorting my own kids from house to house, I was always struck by how easily we parents struck up conversations amid the clamor. There were no strangers, just fellow dads and moms focused for a few fleeting hours on our hyperexcited kids. Later, back home, I’d referee the trading of the loot – a Starburst for a Nestle’s Crunch, a Milky Way for a Tootsie Roll, two Kit Kats for an Almond Joy …

Last week, I texted my kids to ask for their most vivid Halloween memory.

Karl, the youngest, recalled the night he tried to run away from older brother Eric during The Sorting of the Candy and ran directly into a corner of the living room wall.

“Cut to 8 stitches at Mercy,” he texted, noting that the bloodshed came right on the heels of “organizing our candy stashes, which was always my ultimate favorite part.”

Chimed in sister Sara, “You were an exceptional stasher!”

The weather folks tell us that tonight will be all that we could ask for in a Halloween – temperatures in the mid-50s and partly cloudy skies beneath a waning crescent moon. A perfect and much-needed opportunity to get out, connect with the rest of the world and, as recommended by none other than Dr. Shah, indulge our confectionary demons.

Need a second opinion? On Friday, an email dropped into my inbox from one of those public relations agencies that routinely flood journalists with often-mundane story pitches. But this one, citing one Joel Berg, DDS, former president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, caught my eye.

“If you are going to eat candy,” advises Dr. Berg, “it’s better for your teeth if you eat all the candy in one sitting, rather than snacking throughout the day.”

Happy Halloween, fellow Mainers. Stay sweet.


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