Sunday, October 24, 2010

Trick or Treat

Halloween memories are completely different depending on which side of the Pond you grew up on:


I grew up with a Trick-or-Treat style Halloween, so it was a bit disconcerting to find it absent here. Now, however, I appreciate not having to stock up on candy over the week leading up to the 31st of October, and then put up with teenagers with no discernable costume (unless you count being dressed in untied sneakers, dropping trousers and a hooded sweatshirt as a costume) knocking on your door and expecting you to hand over the goods.

Trick-or-Treating is as American as a Post Office massacre; Halloween is not; the British do celebrate it. Halloween decorations are all over town as I write this. There will be parties and special events; I just don’t expect to see any Trick-or-Treating. That is an American tradition.

And as an American, I looked forward to Halloween for the candy. When we were little, we would dress up as tramps (old clothes and soot smeared on your face), ghosts (drape an old sheet over your head and have your mom cut eye holes out of it) and other easy to concoct costumes and make the rounds of the nearby houses. This was a difficulty for us as we lived in a very rural area, but my dad could often be convinced to drive us to the nearest town.

All families participated in Trick-or-Treating, and some looked forward to it almost as much as we did. They spent the week before doing up the house in black crêpe paper, gossamer spider webs and fake blood, and making popcorn balls, pumpkin cookies or candied apples to hand out the local children. They would have been disappointed if no one arrived.

As children, even in such a rural area, we managed to drag home a respectable haul, at east enough to see us through to November, where the next candy-laden holiday awaited.

And on 1 November, as we rode the bus to school, we would see the trees along the streets streaming with toilet paper, and the town squares slick with broken eggs and smashed pumpkins. When I finally grew old enough to join the crowd responsible for this, Halloween took on a whole new meaning.

In those times, nocturnal high jinks were expected, and accepted. The nearby town of Stuyvesant Falls had a long-standing tradition of the teenagers setting the bridge on fire and the local police and fire department trying to stop them. It isn’t as bad as it sounds: the bridge had a steel deck and sat over a creek. Lighting a bonfire in the middle of the bridge did no damage and had no chance of spreading. So the kids would plot and the cops would chase them and the firemen would gather in the firehouse just up the road to enjoy a few drinks and wait.

Sometime during the small hours of the morning, the bridge would be set alight, the cops would try to capture those responsible and the firemen would roll down the hill and have a few more beers while they watched it burn. It was good fun for all.

One year, a neighbour who still had an outhouse on her property that she was planning to remove, let us tip it over, so we could experience the mischief her generation used to visit on the neighbourhood. I was privileged to participate in this historic event, but all in all, I have to say, it wasn’t as much fun as setting the bridge on fire.


I'm a bit remiss this year as my Halloween decorations aren't up yet. I did get the box (yes, box) down and it's all ready I promise. Look -

here it is, ghoulish plastic fencing for the front, a fake gravestone, and lots of fake spider web stuff to stretch over the fence. My neigbours have had their fronts decorated for two weeks. Halloween is huge in this neigborhood.

I do have three gi-normous bags of sweeties ready for the Trick or Treaters, although we're usually out Trick or Treating ourselves and I end up with twice as much as we started off with.

In our neck of the woods, Halloween is a great family event. Everyone walks around the streets, telling each other which houses are the spookiest and where the best candy can be found. Even people who don't have kids get into the spirit and often dress up to greet us. There's one particular house which is decorated so well it's only in the last few years that the Little Guy has plucked up the courage to walk through the gate!

It's in the costume department that I really come into my own however. All those years of enforced needlework classes at school really pay off come October. In years past my kids have been everything from Bo Peep (complete with paper sheep dangling from the waist band and a visor worn backwards and upside down as the large bonnet), chimney sweeps (black clothes and a painted toilet brush. New, of course), and Marie Antoinette with her head sewn back on (crinoline made from scratch and bloody stitch marks round the neck).

Look at these cute babies (teenagers now) - Flapper dress hand made BTW. 

This year I think I've surpassed all previous efforts however, with Recyclo-bot........

Take one large cardboard box, a computer that's ready for the trash, silver paint, duct tape and a hot glue gun. How fab is this? The sleeves are the legs of an old astronaut costume, and the helmet (still being worked on) is a plastic plant pot covered in foil. Even better is that the 2nd grade lesson "theme" this year is recycling.

People may bang on about how commercial Halloween is etc etc. but this big kid loves it!

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  1. Last year I was still in shock at what a huge deal Halloween is in the US. This year I'm already getting accustomed to the idea - we have four pumpkins outside the house (although a squirrel ate one of them) and even some fake spider webs. I'm still giggling at how seriously everyone takes it though - the boys' school is having a costume parade, and the letter I've had about instructions for viewing is virtually more official than anything I've received before from the school!

  2. It's starting to take off in the UK ... we were invited to two Halloween parties and we even found a pumpkin grotto. Was slightly surprised to see candy canes mixed in the Halloween candy, but I was opportunistic and picked some up for Christmas.

  3. My experience was much more like Mike's. We got driven into town to trick or treat when we were younger too. We might have caused some mischief later on, I can't remember (wink, wink.) Toni, your costumes rock!

  4. Well we may not have had trick or treating here in the UK when I was a kid.But I do remember apple bobbing and making lanterns to burn candles in- I can remember my Dad carved one out of a giant swede.
    To day my old folk at the day centre I worked at went on an autumn ride out to see the local Pumpkin patch to see the sights.I was told it was amazingly busy as it is the half term holiday so families were out buy the pumpkin for the season. The local supermarkets are full of Pumpkins and Halloween candy. So all i can say there are parties going on and some trick or treating .

  5. Over my way we batten down the hatches and pretend to be out!!!!!
    I am not a lover of Halloween.
    I have noticed the shops teeming with outfits for children though. I rather like the pumpkin idea if I was going to bother, that is.
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

  6. When I was a kid I remember going trick-or-treating with my babysitter (I know how lame that sounds) and we did dress up and everything but only got a few sweets from each house we visited. As for Halloween parties, I'm sure there are some around, especially as I'm a student, but I don't really care enough to dress up and attend (I'm from the UK by the way).

  7. This is my first Halloween in London (we moved from NYC a few months ago), and I can't believe what a nonentity it is. Christmas decorations began going up in August, but not a pumpkin in sight! I was lukewarm on the holiday before, but now I'm beginning to miss it.

    Nappy Valley Girl--my grade school was exactly the same; we had an official parade that the entire village came out to watch, and then everyone had half an hour to rush home before Trick or Treating began. It required a lot participation from the adults, but we loved it.


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