Archive for Sunday, October 28, 2001

Trick-or-treating is the most fun with children in tow

October 28, 2001


We never heard of "trick-or-treating" when we were children. American Heritage says that the Ladies' Home Journal in 1920 wrote about the practice. The magazine also says a North Dakotan says no one in 1935 had heard of trick-or-treat, and children of later times "sold their rights to rebellion for some sugar in expensive wrappings."

We begged from no one. We had no costumes, except for maybe a mask. I remember wearing a mask like that of The Lone Ranger. In our school classes we prepared for Halloween with drawings in art classes of ghosts or skeletons or pumpkins. I remember no yellow pumpkins in Preston, Idaho. We all seemed to grow big, green Hubbard squashes.

Kids in our town certainly looked forward to Halloween. In our neighborhood we went out to perform some mischief. My semirural boyhood was the age of outhouses, and a lot of outhouses were tipped over. One sweet little lady bribed us with cookies to leave her outhouse alone. We heard of people actually putting outhouses and farm wagons on top of barns. There were a lot of barns in our neighborhood.

We soaped windows; you know, those big old bars of Ivory or the like. We went out with a tick-tack spool to make a noise on windows. There were no Halloween greeting cards, and few stores decorated for Halloween weeks ahead of the holiday.

The best of all Halloweens came in 1938. Half a dozen of us boys were out riding around in a car, and we learned the next day at school that men from Mars, guided by Orson Welles, had invaded New Jersey.

There were Halloween parties. They were rather boring. There were apples that you "bobbed for" in tubs. Everybody had big wash tubs in those days of old-fashioned washing machines. There were apples and candy, and the first 7-Up I ever tasted was at a Halloween party.

Kids have more fun these days, maybe, but the fun is different. We often go to Overland Park to help Carolyn hand out candy while Laura and Daniel are out in the neighborhood. Our grandchildren have different costumes each year, and the costumes are not necessarily designed to scare somebody. Daniel wore a skeleton costume last year, and he sneaked up on me and gave me a jolt. He also has been Darth Vader. The Halloween costume industry must be doing all right. One year I got Daniel a "sword" that glowed in the dark. He loved that thing.

It often seems to rain when we go to Overland Park for Halloween. One year the rain was so violent that we had to pull off the road to wait it out. A few weeks before Halloween I take Laura and Daniel to the big pumpkin patch east of Lawrence so they can ride out into the patch to find their own pumpkins. I have photographs of them sitting on huge pumpkins since they were tiny children (which they no longer are).

We like to see the wee ones who come to our door. The kids who surely are advanced teen-agers should be elsewhere, at a party or doing their homework.

The American Heritage article was revealing. In 1517 Martin Luther took a stand against the holiday. Surprised? In 1926 Harry Houdini made his final exit on Halloween. Orson Welles perpetrated his hoax. Today 70 percent of American households open their doors to strangers on the holiday (maybe fewer this scary year), 50 percent take pictures of the kids, and the nation spends more than $6 billion. Only Christmas outearns it. New Year's Eve and Super Bowl Sunday are right in there.

I don't know that I learned much Halloween history in school. I was grown up before I had heard of Guy Fawkes. Halloween goes way back in history, with or without trick-or-treat. All the witchcraft business caused Massachusetts to believe in Halloween but also to reject it.

I used to sing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" to my daughters, substituting witches and broomsticks for Santa Claus and reindeers. "Rudolph the red-nosed witch." Our daughters were fascinated with witches. In St. Paul, there was a house they called the "witches' house," and when we moved onto Tennessee Street in 1958, the girls had a brand new witches' house just down the street.

I think Halloween is a fine holiday. I even like trick-or-treat, especially because if not many kids come to the door I'll have Snickers and Almond Joys and Baby Ruths to sneak after Oct. 31 is past.

Calder Pickett is a professor emeritus of journalism at Kansas University. His column appears Sundays in the Journal-World

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