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Five-year-old Maya Dumas (L) and her 9-year-old sister Cleo photographed while trick or treating for halloween on Cowan Ave., Toronto October 31, 2012. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)
Five-year-old Maya Dumas (L) and her 9-year-old sister Cleo photographed while trick or treating for halloween on Cowan Ave., Toronto October 31, 2012. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

Halloween is when the best of our city comes out Add to ...

The critics say it was wrong for Toronto city council to shut down early for Halloween. When council debated the issue this week, some councillors said it would be an abrogation of duty to skip off at 4:30 p.m. just to get home and get ready in time.

Nonsense. Halloween has become the ultimate civic holiday. It brings us out of our houses to mingle with neighbours. It shows how we cherish our children. It gathers people of all backgrounds together.

Halloween has no religion, no ethnicity. It is the festival that fits our modern, multicultural society best. Anyone with a cheap plastic mask or a kerchief and eye patch can take part. Every neighbourhood, rich and poor, can get into the spirit.

Just look what happens on my Halloween-mad, west-end street. We get more than 200 trick-or-treaters on a typical night, sometimes 300. The neighbourhood comes alive as the autumn light dims, the jack-o’-lanterns come on and excited kids throng the street.

Neighbours whom you normally glimpse only as they rush by on their way to work say hello on the street or welcome your kids at the door. People compete to dress up their houses with Wal-Mart skeletons and plastic gravestones. The guy next door dons a gorilla suit that never fails to make some little kid cry. His wife makes chili for the parents. The couple two doors down has a battery-powered bat that lets out a screech as kids come through his gate. Scares ’em silly.

Halloween night never fails to make me feel good about my neighbourhood and my city. Toronto can be an uptight, undemonstrative place. On Halloween night we let our hair down and open our doors up.

As a natural snoop, I like the glimpses I get into my neighbours’ houses as the light floods onto their doorsteps. So that’s the guy I always see at the streetcar stop. And, oh, that’s his wife. Smiles of recognition are exchanged.

Strangers who wouldn’t even make eye contact on a normal day find themselves greeting each other and swapping jokes on the street. “Awesome pumpkin carving.” “Hello, you must be Justin Bieber.” “Ooh, is that Freddy?”

Our is a mixed neighbourhood. There are young couples who have moved in to enjoy the new vibe of a gentrifying quarter, Portuguese immigrants who arrived decades ago and put brick patios in their front yards, new Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants with barely a word of English. Normally their paths never cross.

This is the one night when everyone is out together. Immigrant couples looking a little unsure of themselves send their adorable kids up to the door in simple princess or pirate costumes, or sometimes no costume at all.

They are new at this, and haven’t quite got the hang of it. Nobody cares.

Suburbanites arrive in minivans to visit their immigrant grandparents and send their kids out with pillow cases. The semi-detached houses on this 19th-century street are bunched close together, so a kid can get more loot per block than he would in the burbs. Halloween is a night when downtown density yields a tangible dividend. Urban industry does its part, too.

The Cadbury factory around the corner shells out handfuls of candy bars for those willing to brave the lineup.

No wonder many offices empty out early on this day. Karen Stintz, the Toronto Transit Commission chair and the mother of two small children who braved the attacks of some other city councillors to propose shutting city council early, said it’s not about skipping work. “It’s about the kids, the neighbourhood, it is about coming together as a community.”

To back up her principles, she came to council on Wednesday dressed as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Even the mayor’s brother Doug Ford, who usually comes as Defender of the Taxpayer, said everyone deserved to get home in time to enjoy the night with their families. “I’m dressing up as Rob,” he said, sticking out his belly.

That was the spirit. This is the night Toronto loves most. This is the night when the best of our city comes out. Long Live Halloween.

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Follow on Twitter: @marcusbgee

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