Sunday, October 22, 2006

Trick-or-Treat Time Again

Remember trick-or-treating? Not the giving out part, but the receiving?

When I was very young, I had no idea what the term meant. I thought it must have been just a single word: trickertreat. I didn’t find out until later, when I was an older kid and started going out on Halloween with my friends that I broke the term down for the first time into two concepts: getting treated or being tricked.

It was adult-sanctioned childhood extortion. What could be better?

Back in those days, if you didn’t provide the little fake ghouls with a treat, and a good treat at that, the kiddies would gladly soap your windows, toilet paper the tree out front, or throw eggs at your front door.

And it made no difference whatsoever whether or not you left your front porch light on as a welcome beacon. It made no difference whether or not you were even home. If the little extortionists went to your house and didn’t get a treat, you were in serious jeopardy of getting tricked.

Of course, the tricks were fairly benign. Soap washes off easily. Toilet paper decays away. And eggs are scrubbed off easily enough unless you allow them to get dry and hard. True vandalism, breaking windows, setting fires, destroying property, was rare.

Today, of course, the tradition is a little different. The rules of engagement have changed. Parents accompany their kids on their candy-seeking journey until they are almost too old to engage in such activity. And you never go to a house uninvited, one with the porch light off.

The term, trick-or-treat, has lost almost all of its former meaning. It virtually has become a single word. If kids come to your house and you’re out of candy, you can feel fairly safe that you won’t be tricked. Well, that is unless the trick-or-treaters are teenagers. Then all bets are off.

While younger kids and preteens offer little threat, teenagers often forgo the asking-for-a-treat part of the night in favor of concentrating on the tricks. They don’t need to dress like a dork and ask the neighbors for candy; their smaller siblings will provide a bounty for them.

And if you’re in certain larger cities, like Detroit, the tricks have often gotten out of hand. Older teens and even young adults find it amusing to go out on an arson spree on Halloween night. Thankfully, those kinds of serious tricks of outright vandalism are not common in most civilized neighborhoods.

I stopped trick-or-treating when I was about 12 or 13. These days, I often get visits from kids in their mid teens making their rounds. Some of them are simply taking their younger siblings around and so join in the act. Others go out in groups on their own.

Even so, I’ve been fortunate enough over the years not to have been tricked. My first year out of college I got my car egged. And there have been two or three less troublesome tricking events, but nothing major.

There was a time, back in the ‘80s, when the tide got turned and the treat givers started playing dangerous tricks on the costumed kids. Sharp objects such as pins and glass started showing up in apples and candy.

Although there have not been many reports of candy tampering in recent years, the incidence did spark a sense of heightened awareness by parents. More parents are checking the treat bag and more parents are taking their youngster around the neighborhood to trusted homes.

It’s just another way Halloween traditions have evolved over the years. We’ve come a long way from the ancient practice of beggars asking for soul cakes on Halloween in exchange for their prayers on behalf of the dearly departed. Today, a Snickers bar will do just fine.


Benjamin L. Sorensen said...

I found your article about trick-or-treating to be soooo true. When I was a kid, which wasn't so long ago, I'm only 30, it was such a different ballgame. It was much like what you said, if we didn't get candy, you got tricked. It was fun and harmless. Nowadays, if a kid even attempts to put toilet paper on someones precious lawn or trees, he could get fined for littering. Or even his parents could get into trouble for not being good parents. The world has gone to over-conservatism in my opinion. I've been waiting tables for ten years, so I've been watching the public and listening to their opinions for equally as long. When asked about Halloween now, most of the people I serve wouldn't even let their kids out of the house. What has happened to clean fun? Has someone come along and spoiled all the fun? Damn child preditors...hehehe But it's so true. I grew up on a small island called Galveston, TX. I moved there when I was five, from Indiana no less. That's where my mother's whole family is from. Anyway, it's such a small place (600,000 people ;) ) that if I were to screw up on one end of the island, in an hour or two, my parents would've been notified. But little harmless gags were common place, even when it wasn't Halloween. I think we should stop being so over protective, and let's have a little fun...with limits of course. Benjamin Houston,TX

sfdoug said...

I, too, found your article heart-warming ... and, amusing. I came across your "link" while perusing your sponsored "Halloween Page". I write now because I took the liberty of posting some of the material on mine ... now that I have found someone to ask permission (and, thank) ... so, would you please allow me?

If not, I will remove it immediately.

I thank you in advance ... and, would love to "link" to your column ... if you would allow me to do so. Keep up the good work. Happy Hallo'en ...

Incidentally, Halloween is a BIG, BIG deal in San Francisco ... I suppose that doesn't surprise anyone ... some might say that EVERY day is Halloween in San Francisco ... What can I say? You have to love it. I do!

What fun it is to come home on the MUNI (public transportation) with people dressed as "witches and goblins" ... not a day over 44! Coming from Detroit I am familiar of what you had to say about "Devil's Night" ... I think that is what they call it ... the night BEFORE Halloween ... I hope whoever was involved have tired of it.

Best to you,
San Francisco
(Trick or Treat?).