Halloween is celebrated on October 31 in the Western world with such activities as carving pumpkins and dressing up in scary costumes. Children go "trick or treating" house-to-house in their neighborhoods collecting sweets in exchange for not doing any mischief. The observance of this day, though not all its popular culture practices, originated with the Celts' festival of Samhaim that marked the end of the harvest. The name comes from "All Hallow Even," the night before "All Hallows' Day," also known as All Saints Day.

In Seeking Enlightenment . . . Hat by Hat, Nevada Barr, a mystery writer, reframes the importance of Halloween. It's not just a time of costumes and candy, it's a time for children to explore the dark. Her meditation makes good reading to name this day.

"Goodness is a living thing, it needs to be tested, rediscovered by each of us in our own way so we can find out how to best use our idiosyncratic abilities to serve others. Halloween traditionally was the night we were given the freedom to explore the dark — not to find and be the evil but to see that the night was as beautiful as the day, that we were powerful, others were kind, that there was candy behind those closed doors and strangers who gave us treats.

"Being trusted to walk by ourselves in the world at night is an important ritual. That it comes but one day a year when we are small lets us discover this place, said to be inhabited by sinister forces, slowly and safely and by ourselves. On Halloween, we learn we can meet with our demons; that monsters are really and truly just us in other guises; that we can survive this interface. We learn that we are trustworthy; that our parents can dress us as demons, send us out into the night of demons to move among the demons and yet trust us to do nothing worse than to beg candy off the neighbors.

"When adult fears and conveniences take this world from us, herd us off to church and controlled environments, we learn that the world is indeed a horrifying place, that we are not safe in it, the demons are too much for us, neighbors offering candy are not above killing children, and we cannot be trusted to roam, even this one night a year without supervision.

"Halloween is too necessary to consign to the ash heap of ancient wisdoms. It is the one night set aside for our children to confront evil on their own terms. For me, it was the night I learned that evil was a construct of the mind and I need not be a part of it. Because of Halloween, I am free to walk alone in the dark."