My Attempt at Explaining Trick-or-Treating

Even though trick-or-treating has become more common in the U.K., it is far from the well-established tradition that it is in the United States.  I remember when I was stationed in the Air Force in the early 90s and having a conversation about it with my Ministry of Defense colleague.  She could not see the point of children going door-to-door threatening strangers for sweets.  From that perspective, it does sound quite weird, doesn’t it?

However, I loved trick-or-treating when I was little, and I love it even more as a mom when I take the Sprog out with her friends and seeing her feel the same joy I felt.  Of course, the payoff is in the candy, since I understand sugar on a deeper level than most mortals.  It is just as much about the atmosphere of autumn, the dressing up and playing make-believe, the giggling with your pals, and the thrill of the hunt.  It’s running into a classmate and having her tell you, “Hey, go to number 62 around the corner!  They have full-sized Twix bars!”  Sweet!  In more ways than one!  It’s finding your older brother TPing the gym teacher’s house and his hissing at you, “Don’t tell Mom and Dad!”.  You will figure out how many Milky Ways he has to cough up later to buy your silence.  (Not an autobiographical story.)  It’s the test of endurance.  How far are you willing to walk to fill up a pillowcase of tooth rotting glory?  And woe betide the house who distributed apples!

Much is made about safety concerns regarding trick-or-treating.  First of all, the whole thing about evil sociopaths tampering with candy has been an urban myth perpetuated by inflated stories in the news.  Of course, since it was hard to disprove these tales in the 80’s, my dad, in response, had to inspect the candy before we were allowed to touch it and used his authority to have first dibs.  This was also the man who told us that Santa liked beer.  He is quite a smart guy.

To be fair, it is good practice to look over the candy anyway just to throw out the ones that are choking hazards for the little ones and the sweets with open wrappers.

Secondly, you go trick-or-treating where you feel comfortable with the people and safety levels, and chances are, it is your neighborhood.  If you do not live in such a place, there are usually community trick-or-treating events.  For example, in my village during trick-or-treating hours, the businesses pass out candy.  With the fun-size Snickers, your kid may get a coupon for a restaurant you have been meaning to try.  I remember on one particularly chilly Halloween, one restaurant gave away mulled apple cider (non-alcoholic).  And the police are there directing traffic and guiding people across the streets.  So the kids get candy, and the village promotes local businesses.  It’s crowded, but well done.

But can trick-or-treating go overboard?  Well, you tell me.  There are neighborhoods jam packed with families.  Buying huge bags of candy is a necessity.  I took pictures at my local Target to give those outside of our borders an idea of what we can buy to stock up.

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I think it is a fair comment that it can be a bit much.

Wilford Brimley is talking about getting diabeetus from Halloween candy. Or he is telling the audience to eat their fucking oatmeal. Could be either one. By Marc Majcher (Flickr: IMG_6768) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Wilford Brimley is talking about getting diabeetus from Halloween candy. Or he is telling the audience to eat their fucking oatmeal. Could be either one.    By Marc Majcher (Flickr: IMG_6768) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

There is also the matter of what you do with the candy after trick-or-treating. The good chocolate can be frozen, but there is always those cheap candies like American Smarties that are basically sugar and food coloring that nobody wants to eat. Into the trash they go. Then there are the pencils, plastic rings, tattoos, and other tat that will end up in a desk drawer or hidden in the back of the kid’s closet. Those will be found next year during a bedroom deep clean. So we know there is only one place the rest of the candy can go.

The office break room.

If the parents are going to go down, they are going to bring everyone else down with them.

And thus begins the weight gaining season that will last until we make half-hearted New Year’s resolutions.

34 thoughts on “My Attempt at Explaining Trick-or-Treating

  1. I think a lot has changed since you lived in the UK. Either that or you lived in the wrong part. We are stocked with sweets. I allow 100+. The garden will be decorated. Pumpkins carved, and kids dressed. We also have the kids swapping details on the best places to go, and the rule that is used around here is that if there is a pumpkin, you can knock. Its not just families with kids that put pumpkins out. Some are old people, some single. If it is dry, people around us will be outside at peak times as it is constant knocking. I think that having shops like Walmart/Asda have made a point of upselling Halloween over here to increase sales, but I know the kids aren’t complaining.

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    1. Oh, like I said in the first sentence, trick-or-treating is far more common in the U.K. I agree with you there, but it is nothing like the U.S. A child who doesn’t go trick-or-treating over here usually doesn’t because of the parents’ religious reasons or something ideological, and there is usually some sort of alternative like a “Hallelujah” party.

      I’ve been reading some U.K. parenting forums about this, and there are still plenty of holdouts who find the idea daft.

      It’s a HuffPost poll, so not the most scientifically accurate. But I find the results funny.

      http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/11/05/halloween-survey-the-best-and-worst-places-to-trick-or-treat-revealed_n_7372964.html

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  2. I recently remembered Sprees! I used to love those. We don’t get a lot of trick or treaters. Last year only twelve. I bought 2 bags, just in case. One with nuts, Snickers, and one without, Rollos.

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  3. We arrived in America just before Halloween so it was my boys’ first introduction to an American cultural event. They. Loved. It. In Scotland, we had to trail around in the cold and dark to the few houses in our village where people were accepting guisers (we call going out in costume guising) and they would maybe return home with a few handfuls of sweeties and chocolate and a toffee apple – and they were obviously very happy with that. The idea that they could just go up to pretty much each and every house in the neighbourhood and fill an entire bucket with candy – and all without having to perform a song or tell a joke as they had to back home – was a thing of wonder to them. (You can read about our first American Halloween here if you are interested: https://pictinpa.wordpress.com/2013/11/01/our-first-american-halloween/).

    I have to say that I am very good and completely disciplined at not dipping into my kids’ stash of candy. If I tell myself a treat belongs to them then I have the will power to stay away from it. What is bad for my lardy arse is if we somehow end up with leftover candy that should have been handed out to Trick or Treaters. That is up for grabs and so can make it into my gob. My oldest son is so obsessive with saving treats and only have one ever so often that, I kid you not, he has candy left over from last Halloween still along with some from Valentines and Easter. Crazy. I came close to punishing him when I found that he had allowed European chocolate no less to go that white powdery way it goes when it is too old. Grrrrr.

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    1. If a child has to experience Americana for the first time, then Halloween is a great place to start. I would have been mortified over having to go guising as a child. For that, I am grateful for being born here.

      Your son has great discipline, but he has to learn to enjoy his chocolate before it gets old and powdery. I don’t think he has lived here long enough to understand the regenerative powers of junk food in this country.

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  4. Thanks for the qualifier. I have no recollection of running into you on trick-or-treat night after we were old enough to go our separate ways. Thank goodness. Some of the things I got into would’ve required pallets of candy to keep hush.

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      1. Sorry to butt in and add my penn’orth. But there is a successive time table that is bad taste to ignore here. There is a fortnight of ghosts, remembering ancestors, war and death. It starts with Halloween (which is a bit more sombre than in the US) which never lasts more than a weekend in Britain – the same for bonfire night. Sometimes they are amalgamated. After that there are lots of TV programmes remembering world wars. Remembrance is commemorated on the closest Sunday before November 11th. Then and only then we start to cheer up and Christmas lights go up in the cities and we start Christmas shopping at Church Christmas fayres and posting parcels to relatives across the world. Christmas kicks off properly on 1st December which is when we start pigging out – Work and clubs’ Christmas dinners, office parties, charity concerts ,carolling, grottos and ends on 26th – Then we have pantomimes, quizzes, silly sports and New Year before heading back to work on 2nd Jan, or on the 3rd if you live in Scotland.

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        1. Don’t apologize. Your comments are most welcome, SotonOL.

          You make a very good point, and I am glad you brought it up. The Boffin remembers Halloween being more of a somber occasion when he was a lad down in your parts. Actually, he also remembers being creeped out by news goings on in the woods on Halloween. We actually had to come to compromises when The Sprog was younger regarding how to celebrate Halloween because of his association with it. After being here longer, The Boffin has lightened up considerably, but don’t ask him to go to a fancy dress (costume) party.

          With Halloween, Guy Fawkes Night, and Remembrance Day being so close together, it is perfectly reasonable to think that trick-or-treating can be out of place. However, holidays do evolve, and new traditions can create their own meanings in time. It is a case where both sides can be equally right.

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  5. I don’t know, I hadn’t thought about that, I guess it just works in the same way as Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve being so close does. You just celebrate one thing, and then a few days later celebrate another! Guy Fawkes night doesn’t involve much merchandise being sold in the stores as Halloween, apart from fireworks really. Did you know that doing a Thanksgiving dinner is becoming a thing over here too now! Which is rather strange considering what it’s about. I only discovered last year that more and more people are doing that here, and Black Friday to go with it. So I think I will do a traditional Thanksgiving dinner too this year, my kids are half American (their Dad was American) so we have good reason to do it anyway.

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    1. I was wondering if kids collected “a penny for Guy” while they are trick-or-treating.

      I have heard of Black Friday being a thing at certain stores, but I had not heard of anyone celebrating Thanksgiving. That is interesting. I can understand why you would do it because of your American connections. But is that any different from non-Irish people celebrating St. Patrick’s Day?

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      1. I never see anyone collecting a penny for the guy anymore, it’s not anything me or my friends did as kids either. St Paddy’s day, yes I agree, or for that matter, non Christians celebrating Christmas and Easter! We just all enjoy celebrating stuff even if the actual purpose behind it has no real meaning for us I guess!

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  6. I trick or treated myself in the 1950’s. We did not get candy or soda pop at home, so this was a big deal! Easter, Christmas, and Birthdays were the other “sugar” holidays. This early prohibition affected me my whole life, as I still do not have a particular craving for candy or pop. Halloween I went out alone unsupervised with hoards of other strange kids door to door. All the things they tell you to throw away today I got like cookies and apples. But who really wanted those things? We kids ate them with impunity. If we die, we die! No one looked at our stuff for dangerous things. I just got the standard, “You’ll rot your teeth” advice before I left. I never had a BB gun either, but you have heard that story before. My teeth STILL haven’t rotted or fallen out! We also got to wear costumes to school as well. Today kids here cannot because it offends the religious beliefs of the “wiccans” ! Talk about a lame excuse! In the 70’s in the UK I do not remember Halloween really being a thing, but in the late 80’s it was beginning to catch on. That’s my fuzzy recollection. Oh, and Happy Halloween! PS. You’ll rot your teeth!

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    1. Happy Halloween, Greg. The Sprog has her costume in tow for the school’s Halloween parade and party, so I am quite confused about how it would offend the Wiccans. They just cannot bring weapons. I guess the Midwest is a different place.

      I’ll make sure I brush my teeth after my sugar binge.

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  7. Halloween is a bit like prom, it took off over here in the UK after we started seeing you guys over the pond having so much fun in the movies. I’ve always been a huge fan because of my pagan beliefs (as an aside reading the comment above, how can a Wiccan be offended by everyone celebrating the witch’s New Year?? I find that so weird – like a Christian being offended by people celebrating Christmas, I just love that so many celebrate a day that is so important to me) but I turned “pro” after living in New England for a while.
    In previous years I’ve decorated the front garden as a grave yard, with spooky music and smoke machine mist, but this year with a door that opens directly onto the street, it will just be a pumpkin and my witch costume and lots of candy. I’m so into it I’ve been disappointed when I haven’t had trick or treaters!
    Likewise, Thanksgiving is something that happens in our house because of my US connections, but I’ve always offered Thanksgiving dinner to any American friends stuck away from home for the holidays. I make a mean pumpkin pie.
    Wishing you all candy filled, Happy Hallowe’en!

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  8. Getting the right amount of candy is always a battle–enough so we don’t run out, not waaaay too much so my partner doesn’t have to eat it all for weeks afterwards. I used to work in a candy factory and nothing we give out tempts me in the slightest.

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      1. Great idea. When I was tutoring in a community college one year I set out the leftovers. Turned out it was Ramadan and most of our students were fasting during the day. Erk. It’s hard for an outsider to stay tuned to a holiday that drifts through the year.

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