A Certain Lack of Focus

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Trick Or Treat?

I've seen a lot of blogs lately about what's "ok" for kids to do on Halloween. There's quite a lot of talk about taking a child's candy as soon as they've gone trick-or-treating, to prevent them from gorging themselves sick on chocolate. Or of "trading" candy for toy bribes, or sometimes just throwing the loot away.

Now I understand what parents are afraid of, rotting teeth, obesity, sugar crazed brats. But for crying out loud it's HALLOWEEN. These precautions might make sense if you have a kid with allergies, or even a kid who's too little to understand trick-or-treating in the first place, otherwise it's just cruel. Way to ruin the fun. Nothing's wrong with a little gorging, the kid will gain a pound, make himself sick, and be unable to eat anything the dayspooky after anyhow, balancing the whole sugar gain. Or maybe not, but at any rate it balances in the end and one day of celebration isn't going to make a lifetime habit of overindulgence.

Then there's the question of "trick." I've read a ton of comments about those damned vandals, throwing eggs which create permanent property damage, and other sorts of Halloween tricks that bring no end of nuisance and hurt feelings. The question of whether it should be allowed is sort of irrelevant, more important is why it's happening in the first place.

When I was a kid, the charm of Halloween had nothing to do with tricks, or even really the treats. It was all about the feeling in the air. There was a feeling that anything could happen, ghosts could come up behind you, you could discover an ability for magic, maybe meet a vampire. And all that mystery was all the more delicious because I was young enough to feel secure, safe, automatically protected. I was ready to witness these things because I knew I'd survive them, any other consequences just added to the sense of yummy danger. The idea that someone out there was up to mischief made it all the more fascinating, but I myself never had the temptation to throw eggs or toilet paper, or smash pumpkins on the street.
Why didn't I have the temptation? Because I continued trick-or-treating until I was fifteen or sixteen, in other words, far too old. To my mind, that's the real trick: teenagers. I could (but won't at this time) talk for pages about the problem of teenagers in general, a created class of people that is neither here nor there, and utterly confused because of it. Instead I'd like to talk about this chunk of people on Halloween.

When a five or six year old says: trick or treat? he probably doesn't realize what he's saying. Even as we get older we don't really consider that phrase a negotiation, and consciously it's not. On the other hand when a sixteen-year-old comes to your door with a plastic pumpkin and says "trick-or-treat" most people will give them the: "aren't you too old for this" glare, and in a way, it's these skeptical neighbors that are pushing the trick-or-treat towards the "trick" half. I was encouraged to stop trick-or-treating when I was about twelve, not that I did. You don't even have to tell them they're too old, a child realizes this the first time he or she is asked, "are you going trick-or-treating this year?" as though it were an option, as though the possibility not to go actually exists. We expect these kids to grow up in the course of a year, but they still want to dress in costumes, want to be a part of Halloween magic like they always have been. So when we tell them they're too old, and provide them no other way to be a part, they find their own way. Somehow we are still surprised to when our trees are covered in soggy toilet paper, or the paint job on our cars are ruined by eggs.

I'm not saying vandalism is ok, but aren't we kind of asking for it when we, as a society, tell kids we aren't going to give them the "treat" any longer? Personally, when I have kids, and they start to indicate a reluctance to go trick-or-treating, I'm going to buy them a whole bundle of TP. If they're going to go out playing tricks, I'd rather it be the huge nuisance kind than the permanent property damage kind.

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