With the exception of that traditional eve when jolly St. Nick visits the chimneys of the world, there is perhaps no holiday quite as beloved, or more anticipated by kids than Halloween, the last day in October that we have long set aside as an evening to congregate in costume and perhaps even scare ourselves silly. It is a time of ghouls and goblins, of witches and black cats, of costume parties and grinning pumpkins. And, if that wasn’t enough, every kid knows that it is the one night when it is perfectly acceptable to beg door-to-door for candy. Now, that’s a holiday!
The origins of Halloween trace back centuries, a mixture of Roman and Celtic customs that celebrated the transition from fall into winter. Trick or treating may be traced as far back as the Middle Ages, when it was called “souling”. Poor folks went from door to door, saying prayers for the dead and, in return, received a few scraps of food. In Scotland, they called it “guising” where participants would hollow out turnips, turn them into lanterns and carry them from door to door. For their efforts, they might receive money, cakes or perhaps some fruit. That sounds nice, but it took some American ingenuity to create the confection-heavy version we’ve come to know and love.
The trick or treating we are now accustomed to started in the 30s, then was brought to a grinding halt when sugar rations became necessary during WWII. Shortly after the war ended, however, children’s magazines like Jack and Jill began promoting the practice again, as did the Peanuts comic strip, and even Walt Disney, who released the classic cartoon, “Trick or Treat,” in 1952.
Kids have been banging on doors ever since, begging for treats, and if denied, perfectly willing to exact revenge via mischievous pranks. Hell hath no scorn like a kid deprived of candy. Most pranks involved such household items as eggs, toilet paper, shaving cream and soap. You can use your imagination, but let’s just say that they were often used in ways in which they weren’t intended. And, of course, the grand daddy of pranks was the smashing of some poor soul’s pumpkin (there’s a band name in there somewhere) on the pavement.
Perhaps the most important decision to make prior to the arrival of Halloween was the choice of costume. Whether trick or treating or going to a party, a costume was a must. Perhaps as a small child, you picked out a Ben Cooper costume at the store, complete with vinyl smock and sharp plastic mask. Or, maybe you made your own (hobo, anyone?). Two holes poked into a sheet and you had an instant (and inexpensive) ghost. More enterprising youngsters even employed the two-costume technique, where you canvased the entire area for candy, then switched costumes and hit it again.
When the sun finally set on Halloween, most of us began walking the streets, trusty plastic jack o’ lantern or pillowcase in hand, ready to collect Smarties, candy corn, Dum Dum Pops and an assortment of miniature candy bars. We took our hard earned bounty home and dumped it on the counter so our parents could inspect it closely. Thanks to some pesky (and mostly unfounded rumors) many of us (or at least our parents) believed that there just might be a razor blade, needle or poison lurking in that inviting pile of confections. We waited not-so-patiently for mom or dad to give their candy clearance, and then it was ours to do with as we pleased (in most cases, at least). Some kids would eat only a few pieces each day, while others polished off all the good stuff within the first 24 hours. You also might have had to guard your candy from the likes of larcenous siblings, or a even a sneaky parent with a sweet tooth.
Once kids began to outgrow trick or treating, of course, parties began to take precedence. Still costume clad, kids gathered to dance to The Monster Mash, eat creepy looking food, watch scary movies, and thrust their faces into metal tins of water, in the hopes of grasping a bobbing apple in their teeth. And if you didn’t have a party to go to, you could always go out and try to scare the crap out of the younger trick or treaters. There was always something for a kid to do on Halloween.
We want to hear your best Halloween memories. Tell us about your favorite costumes, your favorite parties, the candy you favored and tricks you performed when the candy wasn’t to your liking. All is fair game in our comments section, as we tip our hats to this delightfully frightful holiday.