Halloween is the one holiday that everyone ought to be able to handle.
Those others -- national, religious and individual -- are all too much, as Miss Manners is informed annually by disgruntled celebrants. According to this holiday crowd, days that are designated to be meaningful or merry present outrageous demands and create unrealistic expectations. Those who participate complain that they are irritated and bored. Those who are left out complain that they are bitter and depressed.
It seems a waste to give these folks a day off.
But Halloween has become immensely popular without benefit of social pressure, or even a day off. Apparently, it works for great numbers of grown-ups.
Miss Manners is guessing that this might be because the social skills involved are ones that they have been practicing diligently all year. Nor does it hurt that Halloween is remarkable for an absence of duties.
On most holidays, you are supposed to be nice, not only in general, but even to people you know. You are supposed to have good feelings -- gratitude, piety, concern for those who are homeless and warmth toward a house full of children who are underfoot. You are supposed to take pleasure in other people's good fortune and take action to correct others' misfortune.
You are supposed to get together with -- of all the incompatible people -- those you call your loved ones. On top of that, you are supposed to remember your friends on their birthdays, wedding days, anniversaries and other occasions on which they grab all the attention.
Often, there is an implicit demand that you dress up, which means taking the trouble to find a piece of clothing that isn't already on the chair from being worn the day before, and to struggle into it. This has come to be considered an outrageous demand, if not a breech of our sacred freedom.
Many holidays have set menus, which may have items that you dislike or of which you disapprove. If you are not pressured to cook any of this, you are certainly pressured to consume it under the watchful eyes of the people who did, because of another pesky requirement that everyone eat at the same time, regardless of when they happen to feel like it.
You are expected to give and give and give. Charities always seem to put on the pressure just when you are also expected to produce presents for just about everyone you've ever met, and the tedium of shopping is relieved only by spotting new things you want for yourself.
It all adds up to a lot of trouble and disappointment.
Halloween is different.
You get to dress up, even making your own costume. Instead of the hypocrisy of acting as if you were a better person than you are, you can pretend to be someone else entirely.
It doesn't matter with whom you celebrate, because they're all in disguise. The menu consists of a steady diet of candy. Rather than getting presents for others and faking pleasure at what they choose for you, you go around getting what you want by begging and threatening. And the idea is not to meet others' expectations, but to shock them.
Miss Manners doesn't grudge Halloween celebrants their pleasures. She only wishes these were more of a holiday novelty.
Dear Miss Manners:
What is the proper dress for school?
Miss Manners knows a loaded question when she sees one.
You have already heard what your parents consider to be proper dress for school. You have already heard what the school considers proper dress. And you have seen what your most daring classmates consider proper dress.
Miss Manners is sorry to inform you that proper school dress is what your parents and teachers deem proper dress, modified by whatever you can manage to do to it that they fail to notice.
Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissManners@unitedmedia.com, or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.
(c)2002, Judith Martin