The Culture of “Trick or Treat!”

by Noella Noelophile®

pumpkins1.“Trick or treat!”

That’s something we’re looking forward to hearing, this evening. And how trick-or-treating has changed since we pulled on those rubber masks and went door-to-door, ‘way back when!

As a kid growing up in the 1960s, if Halloween fell on a Saturday, you were golden.  Because, as soon as it was about 9 am or so, our East Coast neighborhood was fair game.

Up and down the streets we went, ringing every doorbell.   Some people came to their doors, some didn’t–and that’s when you said, “Trick or treat!”  And you’d get anything from a mini candy bar to those chalky candy cigarettes (remember those?) to one “mean” old woman who never failed to open her door with a “Please, go away!”  (That was scary to all the kids back then.   Today, I can’t help but wonder what her story was.)

And, once you had your bag of candy, you went home.  Who knew how many other trick-or-treaters were stopping by your house.  You gave till the candy ran out–usually, by evening, because your parents knew to buy a lot!  Then, you turned the lights off, ignored the doorbell–and prayed anyone else who came to the door didn’t have chalk.

Because, on the East Coast, the “trick” part of “trick or treat” wasn’t just a figure of speech.  Outdoor pumpkins got smashed, eggs wound up on cars, and trick-or-treaters who didn’t get candy after dark often didn’t hesitate to draw caricatures or write unflattering assessments on your sidewalk.   (Not exactly the “good old days”!)

So–now that we’re in candy-giving mode, on the opposite coast?  What a change.

Our first Halloween Saturday here, we stocked up on candy, thinking we’d have a steady stream of young, costumed “customers”.  Halloween dawned sunny and pleasant, and we were up and waiting.

And waiting–until the sun set.

Then, we noticed, neighbors who wanted trick-or-treaters would have their porch lights on.   Outside our door, after our own porch light went on, we heard, “Trick or Treat!” before the doorbell rang.  Upon answering the door, we were greeted with about ten small hands, each trying to take two or three of the best pieces of candy.  (Some things never change!)  Meanwhile, a change we observed, that was much for the better since our own trick-or-treat days, was the tall, shadowy parental figures, waiting at the end of the walk, with virtually every group.

And as eight o’clock approached, we looked up and down the street.  The trick-or-treaters had gone home.  Like our neighbors, we turned off our lights and went in to watch our favorite scary movies–while attempting to do something about the surplus of candy.  Our dentist will either be delighted or horrified!

Once the porch light was off, our doorbell didn’t ring once.  The following morning, when we took a walk around our neighborhood, there were no chalk drawings, no eggs on the sidewalk, and any outdoor pumpkin decorations remained intact.

Perhaps I’m comparing apples with oranges, when holding up twenty-first century Halloween in California to the Eastern Halloweens of my long-ago childhood.  But it seems to me Halloween has become a lot more fun, if considerably shorter.

Happy Halloween, and BOO! to you.  And would you like some candy?  I think we bought too much.

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