Halloween might look like a child's holiday, a merry pretext for costumes and candy, but if you're a pedantic killjoy like me, it can be a learning opportunity. Here's what happened last year when the kids came to the door!

(Ding dong) Kid: Trick or treat!

Me: What are you?

Kid: I am a pirate.

Me: Oh, yes, of course, the eye patch. Did you know that pirates had eye patches not because someone had lanced their eyeball in a painful struggle and they had somehow survived the infection, but because it meant they could switch the position of the eye patch when fighting below decks, and the previously obscured eye would be already adapted to the dark? Then they could kill with ease.

Kid: Uh.

Me: Your romanticization of the pirate lifestyle ignores their bloody, antisocial, parasitical activity. We like to think they were free spirits who had a rich culture and tradition, but they were mostly criminals with rickets and scurvy whose teeth fell out when they sneezed. It would be better next year if you dressed as a wise colonial administrator who did what he could to help the natives of the islands the Europeans had claimed as their own. Here's a carrot. What do you say?

Kid: Thank you.

Me: That's right. Gratitude was unknown to pirates. Oh, look, another kid.

Kid: Trick or treat!

Me: What are you supposed to be?

Kid: I'm a princess!

Me: You know, all those stories of love and glamour hide the fact that the feudal system was a rigidly hierarchical ordering of society that treated women as property. There was no Prince Charming to come on a steed, only a gouty, malodorous Saxon with boils on his neck who married the princess to establish a strategic obligation between families. Their life would have been a mixture of indolence and relative luxury — bored dalliances with courtiers, punctuated by terrifying episodes of childbirth, eventually characterized by chronic toothaches and skin conditions from inadequate hygiene. Here is some trail mix. What do you say?

Kid: Thank you.

Me: No, what else do you say?

Kid: Feudalism was instrumental in retarding the development of European progress but provided a necessary stability following the collapse of centralized authority?

Me: That's right.

(Shut door. I eat a Twizzler)

(Ding dong) Kid: Trick or treat!

Me: And what are you?

Kid: I'm Batman.

Me: You're also a conflicted ­symbol of our need for an avenging force outside the law, as well as our desire to keep these dark impulses on the margins of our id. Who is the man beneath the mask? Is he really, in a way, all of us?

Kid: I'm Connor.

Me: Work with me here, Connor. Why do you want to be Batman?

Kid: He beats up bad guys.

Me: Ah, but he has set himself up as the judge of who is bad and who is not. Is the challenge not to cheer on Batman because we wish his power, but to oppose the Batman inside all of us?

Kid's dad: What is the matter with you?

Me: Just because it's Halloween doesn't mean we can't consider ethical ambiguities. Our costumes reveal what we see ourselves to be, but we are oft surprised by what others behold. Here are some raisins. What do you say?

Kid: Trick or treat.

Me: No, that's your opening gambit, establishing the paradigm of blackmail that undergirds this entire evening. This is where you express gratitude.

Kid: I'm Batman.

Me, to Dad: You've got some work to do on this kid.

(Shut door. Eat Twizzler.)

(Ding dong) Kid: Trick or treat!

Me: Who are you supposed to be?

Kid: I'm (character from some kids' show I've never seen).

Me: Hmm. I have no objections to your costume. But tell me, what is the show about?

Kid: Funny trains who have adventures.

Me: I see. Is it contemporary, or does it display some vague nostalgia for an era when trains were the dominant mode of intracity transportation?

Kid: (pause) The funny trains solve crime.

Me: That's unlikely. Steam engines may have opened up the West and knit together the isolated towns on the prairie, but they weren't known for their deductive powers. Nevertheless, here is an apple. What do you say?

Kid: Thank you.

Me: No. Stay in character. Thank Choo!

(Shut door. Eat Twizzler.)

(Ding dong) Me: Aren't you a little old for this? Nice police costumes, though.

Police: We've had some complaints. Parents have said you're making their kids feel confused about their costumes because (checks note pad) you're insisting on historical accuracy.

Me: I assure you, officers, if I was doing that, I would have told the pirate child to speak with an appropriate accent. They say arrrr, but they employ a Scottish r, as opposed to the guttural r found in the southern seaports from which the pirates originated. Would you like an apple?

Police: No, thanks. Just relax. It's Halloween.

I shut the door and turned off the light. Ingrates. Well, this year, my wife's handing out the candy, and I'll sit in the garage with the dog to keep him from barking at everything. He listens! He seems to get it. But then he gives me that look of disappointment like the rest. I know, some dogs don't like apples. But I think they should.