I am prepared to be the lone voice here but I dread Halloween, or at least the trick or treating candy-fest part. I didn’t grow up with the American tradition of trick or treating so perhaps that partly explains my aversion – it’s not in my DNA – but the idea of encouraging children to knock on doors and request lollies goes against every fibre of my being.
I thought I could avoid it this year. A dear friend had invited us to a Halloween party at her house and I was thrilled. Anne is a primary school teacher taking a sabbatical. She has not worked in a classroom for over a year and is consequently bursting with the creative energy she would normally expend at work. She needs an outlet for this resourcefulness and as I lack the creative gene I am very happy to let her loose on my brood anytime.
When I told the children we would be going to Anne’s party they were incredibly excited until they realised the trade-off would be no trick or treating after school.
There were tears and complaints. “You never said we had to choose between trick or treating and the party. We thought we were going trick or treating with our friends first. You’re so mean, we’ll be the only kids not trick or treating from school.”
The tears were all crocodile and I am not usually influenced by “I’m not getting my own way” style tantrums but the children had all made an effort with their costumes and had even decorated their loot bags and made up scary jokes as their “tricks” so I agreed to compromise. Where was the harm in trick or treating for half an hour before the party? It is a big annual school event and most houses in the neighbourhood are decorated with lanterns, cobwebs and skeletons, inviting children to squirt occupants with water pistols in exchange for a lolly or two. I decided to bury my prejudices and let my children join in the harmless fun.
With hindsight, trick or treating is like childbirth – immediately it’s over you block out how terrible it was in preparation for repeating the process at a future date.
The first five minutes were fine. The houses were beautifully decorated in Halloween garb and it would have been churlish to disappoint the occupiers by not calling. So my two skeletons, one witch and one Dracula paraded up driveways and knocked on doors. In exchange for their corny jokes the children returned happily swinging loot bags now containing a couple of lollies whose wrappers promised no artificial preservatives and no adverse side-effects. I began to wonder why I had been so against this fun tradition.
And then suddenly it all went horribly wrong. At approximately the same time as the first sugar rush took hold, my little gang of four bumped into a large group of school friends and became part of an uncontrollable gaggle of about a dozen kids swinging loot bags so full the handles were about to give way. My children visibly morphed from cute to obnoxious in seconds; it was like watching Bruce Banner becoming the Incredible Hulk with a cry of “You wouldn’t like me when I’m greedy!” They became a human version of one of those amusement arcade grabbing arms but with guided-missile- accuracy, pushing and shoving to get to the proffered candy basket and grasping handfuls without a please or thank you to be heard.
This behaviour continued for three or four more houses with the group steadily becoming bigger and more feral until my frazzled nerves and sense of decorum could stand it no longer and I called time on my little band. Six year old Dracula had just lost a tooth to a particularly sticky toffee and whilst the blood now dribbling down his chin added authenticity to his costume, with cheeks still bulging, it seemed a suitable excuse to break free. I can only imagine the glee that is felt in dentist’s offices throughout the world in the weeks following Halloween; all those cavities and lost teeth will pay for dentists everywhere to vacation in Tahiti a couple of times a year.
Mercifully it was not too difficult to prize my children away from the wild band of candy grabbers – this was only the appetizer to their evening, the main event was yet to come at the party.
Anne did not disappoint. She had created a perfect blend of Halloween entertainment with much needed nourishing but fun food; she led the children passed tombstones and through cobwebs into a haunted house, putting their hands into vats of giants’ eyeballs (grapes in jelly), monster’s blood (corn flour and food colouring) and zombie’s intestines (cold spaghetti) on the way. A skeleton made entirely of veggie sticks and home-made humus adorned the table, surrounded by banana ghouls and mini-pumpkins made from satsumas and cucumber; dinner was a cauldron of newt stew (bolognaise) and pumpkin faces followed by a graveyard for desert – chocolate mousse earth filled with dead bodies (jelly babies) and marked with biscuit headstones.
Luckily the sugar high had worn off (or had at least been counteracted by all the fibre and vitamins in Anne’s creative and delicious food) and the children’s manners returned as they happily iced their gingerbread skeletons, bobbed for apples and pinned the horns on the devil.
Departure time rolled around and the weary but now calm and well-nourished kids bade their grateful farewells. As their happy, greasepaint-stained faces hit the pillows I resolved to not be such a Halloween misery next year and to plant my pumpkin seeds in plenty of time.