When I was a kid in the 1970s, I did the trick-or-treating thing every Hallowe’en, along with all the other kids in my neighbourhood. For many of us, it was the highlight of the fall season and second only to Christmas on the annual excitement scale. Other than for our masks, our costumes were mostly hand-made by us and pretty low-tech (two hangers taped together at the hooks were angel wings; an upside-down ice-cream container with a rayon scarf trailing from it was Maid Marion’s headpiece; a big cardboard box with holes cut out for the arms was a TV set, etc.), but we didn’t care how ridiculous we looked because, for most of us, Hallowe’en was all about the free chips, candy and chocolate bars. The costumes were just a means to that end.
We saw our neighbourhood homes as dispensers of the free treats we so craved (and considered our birthright on that one amazing night), and for that reason all the houses we intended to hit were considered friendly turf. We didn’t anticipate having any problems when we stomped up the steps with our pillowcases bulging with loot; we didn’t expect to be challenged when we shouted “TRICK OR TREAT!”; we just expected to be given free grub, and we’d be on our way.
But there was this one house in our subdivision that gave me the creeps. Every Hallowe’en, I would go there only because the older kids I was trick-or-treating with would go there, but it bothered me. It was the only house I wanted to get away from as quickly as I could. I don’t even remember whether they gave good treats or not; I just remember that I thought the place and the people in it were creepy.
Here’s why: the man who lived there would dress up as a mummy or Frankenstein’s monster, and his wife (the one who did the shelling out of the treats) would dress as a witch. In my world, as a six-, seven-, eight-, nine-, or ten-year-old kid, this was just weird. Adults weren’t supposed to get dressed up on Hallowe’en – kids were. That’s what I remembered thinking each year that I went to that house. I remember thinking how unsettled these adults made me feel.
Fast-forward to the early 1990s. When I was in my mid-20s, I moved into a main-floor flat in a house in Toronto. This was the first time I was actually able to start shelling out from my own door. I lived in the flat with my then-boyfriend (these were my pre-born-again years) and, completely discounting my experience as a kid regarding the creepiness of adults dressing up on Hallowe’en, we both would get dressed up – he as a mummy and I as a witch. Each year, we would cover the entire front yard, fence and porch with cobwebs, change the porch light to a green bulb, play a creepy soundtrack that was punctuated every 30 seconds with a blood-curdling scream, and even change our house number to “666”. We thought this was all a hoot and were doing it to have fun, but the kids who came trick-or-treating were terrified. Some of the younger ones would refuse to come up our walk and would stand on the sidewalk howling in fear. This only made us laugh more.
Being a born-again Christian now, I understand what motivated me back then to want to turn Hallowe’en into something scary when the kids only wanted it to be something fun that got them free treats. Even when parents told me afterwards that their kids were still afraid to walk by our house after Hallowe’en was over, I would just shrug. I didn’t care. I’d had my fun, and for me “fun” was to scare young children on Hallowe’en, just like it had been “fun” for those dressed-up adults to scare me when I was a kid.
I am not against Hallowe’en. I’m aware of its pagan roots and I understand what motivates adults to want to dress up and scare kids, but I’m still not against Hallowe’en. Whenever I’m staying in a place that enables me to shell out, I do so with joy. I wrote about this a few years ago (see HERE) and my position hasn’t changed. No, I don’t like the part of Hallowe’en where adults dress up in creepy costumes to frighten children (it’s weird to me again, like when I was a kid), but I 100% support the continued birthright of kids to go door-to-door demanding free chips, chocolate bars and candy on the early evening of October 31st. That, to me, is the real root of Canadian Hallowe’en and is a tradition that should be honored by everyone in Canada, regardless of their religious beliefs.
Jesus had to deal relatively sharply with his disciples when it came to kids wanting things from him. In one of the gospel passages, the disciples demand that Jesus tell the kids who were thronging around them to go away, but Jesus instead turned on the disciples, reminding them that “the kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these”, and drew the children even closer to him. Hallowe’en is a time to draw the children in our neighbourhood closer to us, to show them that the world is not a creepy or fearful place where they’re not welcome but a community of people who are looking out for them, have their best interests at heart, and value them for what they bring to the table, regardless of their young age and the upside-down ice-cream container they’re wearing on their head.