What’s Up with a “Trick” When You “Treat?”

Sadly, Mr. Pumpkin won’t be making an appearance in 2012.

Halloween was last night and it’s one of my favorite holidays. It’s the night where many hear the familiar call of “Trick or Treat” at our front doors. Advance preparation for most includes running to a store (a lot of times actually on Halloween) to purchase candy or “treats.” Of course, we all buy our favorite candy with the hopes that there will be a few leftovers once all the trick-or-treaters have visited. The “trick” is a usually an idle threat to perform mischief on homeowners or their property if no “treat” is given.

I recall years’ ago explaining Halloween to a friend from another country where Trick-or-Treating is not widely practiced. I explained: “Kids show up at your door dressed in costumes, and yell ‘Trick-or-Treat,’ you answer the door, and give them candy.” To this, he replied, “Do you know these kids?” I replied, “No, not really, the majority are strangers.” “But why do you give them candy?” he asked. “It’s just a custom here in the United States,” I stated. “How strange,” he replied. And in actuality, it really is. But who cares? It’s a fun tradition that’s here to stay as Halloween is the second highest-grossing holiday for the retail industry following the all-time leader of Christmas.

Yesterday, I spoke with a guy from my Neighborhood Patrol as they mapped out the homes participating in Halloween in order to steer trick-or-treaters – usually numbering more than 100 – throughout our neighborhood. He indicated many homeowners were either attending functions elsewhere, taking their own children trick-or-treating, or, due to unemployment, planned not to participate. He indicated the vast majority of homeowners on my block and adjacent cul-de-sac were not participating in Halloween this year.

When I heard this, I was heartbroken for the kids and told him that I would participate. I climbed up into my attic for my Halloween decorations and pulled down a string of pumpkin lights and two yard decorations – a large pumpkin, about 3’ tall, and another with ghosts rising up from a tombstone. I then raced to a store and purchased several bags of Laffy Taffy. Yes, the banana-flavored Laffy Taffy is my favorite.

Although some popular histories of Halloween have characterized trick-or-treating as an adult invention to re-channel Halloween activities away from vandalism, there are very little records supporting it. According to Wikipedia, Des Moines, Iowa is the only area known to have record of trick-or-treating being used to deter crime.

For many years, I hosted huge Halloween parties where I supplied each attending child with a goody bag of Halloween favors. I had various leftovers including vampire teeth, tattoos, glow-in-the-dark snakes, skull and spider rings, stickers, bracelets, and so forth. I mixed those together with several bags of candy and created a large bowl full of “treats” to pass out.

I had lots of trick-or-treaters with the most popular costumes being princesses, witches, zombies, and super heroes. At 8:50 p.m., my bowl of “treats” was getting low and I had just decided to cut it off at 9 p.m. I then answered the door to a group of five teenage boys. I’m guessing their ages ranged from 13- to 15-years old. One had on a Miami Dolphins jersey and another wore a scary mask but, for the most part, they were plain clothed. The boys were loud and aggressive, crowding close to me at the door wanting to know what I was giving out and why I wasn’t in a costume. Only two carried bags to collect candy.

Three of the boys were excited to receive the Laffy Taffy and specifically requested the strawberry flavored ones (yay…I still had banana-flavored ones left!) and two grabbed skull rings and vampire teeth along with the candy. Two of the older-looking, non-costume-wearing kids rejected the Laffy Taffy and Halloween favors and one stated, “We only want good candy” and they walked off. Or so I thought!

About five minutes later the doorbell rang and I answered to my neighbor standing there with one of my decorations in her hands. It was my large plastic pumpkin with a huge hole in it. She also had another neighbor’s pumpkin and asked if it belonged to me as well. She indicated she witnessed these boys kicking my pumpkin around and that they had grabbed and destroyed her scarecrow decorations and smashed several real pumpkins as well.

I told her of my exchange with them and she related she was giving out Hershey’s chocolate bars and Snickers and that these kids were aggressive with her as well. After closing her door following their visit, she heard odd noises and went out to discover the boys destroying our decorations. She indicated she called the Neighborhood Patrol to watch out for these kids as they ran off when she came outside to investigate.

We were “tricked” and we’re not sure why. We did our part by decorating and providing what we both thought were good “treats.” It was our understanding that if you give a “treat” that you do not get “tricked.” When did it start that the “treats” had to be of a certain type or value?

After my neighbor departed, I immediately took down my pumpkin lights and brought in my ghost decoration and shut off all the outside lights. Halloween 2011 was over for me at 9 p.m. I had thoroughly enjoyed all the kids (and a few dressed up dogs) prior to this group of boys that came to my door. I had kids of all ages visiting my door last night with most of the teenagers being overly polite. Several of the kids even commented how much they liked my Halloween favors and decorations, especially my cute pumpkin lights.

My “trick” on these kids is that I plan not to let a few vandals destroy my Halloween and “treat” giving. Next year, I plan to put out my pumpkin lights and ghost decorations and yes, I hope to give out Laffy Taffy again in hopes that I’ll have some banana ones left over for me.