trick-or-treating: why we did it

Halloween is a relatively new celebration in Australia. My memory of it as a child was my father harumphing about ‘American nonsense’ and ‘cultural imperialism’. But as giggling around the nighttime streets collecting armfuls of treats from strangers started to really take off, he let us go anyway. (Goodonya, Dad!)

An awful lot of Australian’s probably felt like my dad did. Many probably still do. We’re a small nation and a new one, still struggling to build an identity we can call our own. That’s not an easy task when your homes are flooded with American television programs, our children’s heroes grown in some far flung field. So I sympathise with those who are resistant to the imposition of a new holiday which has no real meaning in this country. I really do.

Then, in my 20 years as a Christian fundamentalist, my justification for rejecting the celebration of Halloween was based on my belief that it glorified the satanic. It was difficult for me to see how dressing children as witches and ghouls could possibly be compatible with the purity and holiness we were valued so highly. So we ignored it more or less. Although I kept lollies by the door for visiting children. I was never quite so bah, humbug as to hand out toothbrushes, or worse, Bibles as we’ve heard some do. Nearly, but not quite.

For several years, our family also boycotted Christmas believing that it’s pagan roots and contemporary materialism were taints we could not ignore. We toyed with holding a ‘birthday party for Jesus’ instead and even did it one year – with cake, balloons and all – but frankly, it just didn’t fly. Later, to the horror of one of the stricter families in our home church group, we embraced Christmas wholeheartedly once more, building in additional symbolism in order to help our children remember important truths about the birth, death and resurrection of Christ. Looking back, I wonder how explaining as we dressed the tree that ‘this string of red beads is symbolic of the blood Christ shed for us when he died on a tree for our sins’ could have seemed a festive thought to share with my babies. 

But at the time it made sense. For us, everything had to have meaning. Everything had to sit in the ‘right’ or the ‘wrong’ basket. There are few shades of grey, few acceptable variations. There was no spectrum of faith for us. Our idea of what constituted a Christian, or appropriate Christian practice was narrow, quite rigid and based on the Bible. 

So, anyway, today I no longer hold concerns about either imperialism or satanism. But as Halloween drew closer this week, and my children started asking whether we could go trick-or-treating for the first time, I uncovered another layer of reluctance lurking in my heart. I found myself saying, that I just can’t see it is OK to knock on strangers’ doors and ask for food. Begging doesn’t do it for me. Too proud I suppose. I don’t even like those smorgasbords where you hold out your plate like Oliver, smiling with gratitude should the chef deign to fling a slice of overcooked beef in your direction. They always make me feel kind of dirty.

So I fobbed and fobbed…and would have managed to let it pass us by if my friend Lynette had not called at the last minute and said she was going to take her daughter to a nice quiet set of streets for some chocolatey fun. She assured me there were some Americans and Canadians living there who were always thrilled when children came a-calling. Pressed to make a decision with almost no notice (and not wanting to miss a chance to do a bit of street walking with a girlfriend) I agreed.

So the bairns frocked up and off we set. I felt nervous at first. What if someone chased my children off their stoop with a broom? Or shrieked that they were imperialised beggar brats who should go home and memorise some Henry Lawson? But no such horrors transpired. We carefully selected only those homes with porch lights on and front doors tantalisingly ajar. People couldn’t have been nicer, or more pleased to fill our children’s bags with enough chocolates and lollies to give us all a dreadful night’s sleep and a serious sugar hangover the next day. We bumped into other trick-or-treaters and frightened each other with giggly boos. The kids laughed and chattered as they ran from door to door, scarcely able to believe how good this was. Free lollies! From strangers! And all you had to do was smile nicely and hold out your bag. It was a dream come true.

So…the days when I would require a profound meaning to drive me to participate in the fun are long gone. And I no longer care a snip either about Halloween’s roots, or that trick-or-treating is only appropriate for those who can’t afford to come by chocolates in the ordinary way. From now on, instead of constructing arguments for rejecting Halloween – or any other celebration on offer, I’m going to limit my analysis to this: Life is just too short to miss any opportunity to enjoy watching children – mine or anyone else’s – laughing out loud in frank delight.

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6 thoughts on “trick-or-treating: why we did it

  1. Karen says:

    I totally understand much of your experience, and here in Canada my youngest 5 went out trick-or-treating for their 2nd year. We give much of the candies away shortly after the event as I can’t stand so much sugar in the house! But the kiddos certainly enjoy dressing up and going door to door.

  2. Doug Steley says:

    While I still have the same nagging doubt about marketing and cultural imperialism I have to admit seeing happy kids dressed up and having fun makes up for a lot of my concerns.

    I would not spend money on elaborate decorations for any holiday of festival but I do enjoy giving small gifts and seeing the results.

  3. Louella H says:

    Sounds like you and the bairns had a great night. Wonderful!

    I’ve always been the “we-don’t-want-American-customs-here Scrooge who believed teaching kids they could ask for lollies and, should they be declined, doing something nasty was an appropriate response, is not the sort of moral lesson I wanted my kids to grow up with.

    You’ve shown it *can* be harmless fun. 🙂

  4. Bliss Fish says:

    Yup, not much “fun” in “fundamentalism.” Been there done that, bought hours of therapy 😉 Talking with one of our fundy friends, she told us about all the candy the kids received at their Oct. 31st church party. She refused to call it Halloween!

  5. air diffuser says:

    pretty valuable stuff, overall I imagine this is worthy of a bookmark, thanks

  6. Helen says:

    I too felt that I didn’t want my children to learn to go knocking on strangers’ doors and demand lollies. But an American expat in our neighbourhood started a tradition of trick or treat under the guise of community building and it really does do that. While we’re out (and later in the evening) I leave a bowl of lollies on the table in the verandah, with a note asking visitors to please not ring the bell and wake the baby.

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