I don’t remember what we used to do on Halloween when I was a kid growing up in the 1960s and 1970s… but I dare say I enjoyed it. As an adult and a parent, I could, at best, take it or leave it. Trick or Treat, however, is a whole different ball game – US-flavoured metaphor and all.
In the past I have loathed the whole business. Each 31 October I have, like many others I suspect, sat at home in the dark, TV off, ignoring hordes of kids banging on the front door ready to issue their demands. While I sat cursing about unwelcome American imports…
But last year something changed.
My son Evan, then nearly five, had been quivering with anticipation for a couple of weeks. Then two days before the big day, I came home to find a boy apoplectic with excitement, the lounge decorated like a witch’s grotto. Pumpkin lights twinkled on the front window, plastic bats hung from cupboards and doors. A torch shone a ghostly silhouette on the wall.
Halloween arrived, on a Saturday, and the whole day was one long build-up to 6pm. It was time to go Trick or Treating.
We began, unsurprisingly, with our nearest neighbours who, contrary to modern perception, we do know and get on with perfectly well. Heck, we’ve even been round to dinner a few times and our cat regularly makes himself at home on the divan in their conservatory. They had been primed for our visit so we were off to a good start.
We moved on up our road, knocking on the doors of the people we knew to say hello to, and then on as far as those who we wouldn’t recognise if we were stuck in a lift with them. Most were much more sociable than I had expected, though a couple of houses remained in darkness with no sign of life inside. To be fair, maybe they were actually out.
Evan was well into his stride now, his pumpkin bucket filling up with all sorts of chews and chocolate bars. He seemed delighted with his haul so far.
We ventured into unknown territory… the street around the corner. We knew no one on this road, although we had walked up and down many times when Evan was smaller. We picked some houses at random we thought had potential. At one, the door was opened, somewhat tentatively, by a middle-aged guy who peered out,
“Trick or Treat!” we cried in unison. In my case I was trying to both make the man comfortable and ensure a successful visit. The man smiled shyly.
“Oh, I’m a bachelor, I don’t have anything. Hang on.” He waddled off with a somewhat comical gait. Evan was about to pass comment but I cut him off quickly. After a minute the man waddled back and, looking pleased with himself, handed Evan a pound coin. It was all too obvious that Evan would have been happier with a bag of jelly tots but I made sure he expressed appropriate gratitude.
A little further on we came upon a house with the figure of a soldier for a door knocker. I lifted Evan up and he banged it fiercely. Almost immediately the door was opened by someone who was clearly an old soldier. He had a handlebar moustache and was dressed as if ready for a military function. His eyes twinkled as he pretended to be scared of Evan’s vampire regalia and then handed over a bunch of random sweets that he’d neatly wrapped in a Halloween napkin.
A little further, by now about 300 or 400 yards from home, we passed a house bedecked for Halloween. Standing on their driveway the owners were swigging red wine while a number of vampires, ghouls and ghosts ran around them, in and out of the house, yelling and screaming and trying to scare the willies out of each other. The adults hailed us, beckoning us over, and Evan got a smorgasbord of candy to add to his bucket while I enjoyed a small glass of Pinot Noir.
We’d been out for nearly an hour now so it was time to head home. As we strolled back, Evan carefully auditing his haul, I experienced my epiphany. Not only did I genuinely enjoy myself, which was miraculous in itself, but I realised there were a lot of perfectly agreeable people virtually on our doorstep who we’d simply never had cause to meet. Of all things, Trick or Treating had brought us together, albeit briefly.
I felt heartened that these people existed. There had been times in the six years we’d lived here when we had not felt connected to the area or to any sense of community. But I also felt sad that I probably wouldn’t see them again, at least not until next Halloween.
I wondered: is it socially acceptable to go round the next day for a chat, or is that a step too far? Without a vampire in tow, of course.