At time of writing it could only be speculated, how many children would visit the DeMeer home for Halloween.
Smart money would go on less than a dozen at our third bench Princeton bungalow. It’s possible the houses are too far apart in this neighborhood.
It was not always so. For many years we lived on an Ontario village street that – given clement weather – welcomed hundreds of trick-or-treaters annually.
In fairness, the word welcomed might be something of a stretch.
As with all holidays and celebrations Halloween tasks were divided in the family along strict gender lines. Mr. DeMeer accompanied the spawn on their door-to-door travels, at first pulling the Little Tykes wagon and later trailing at a respectable distance. My job was to hand out candy, which is a lot harder than it sounds if you want to do it right.
Early on I became very discouraged at what can only be described as a total lack of Halloween etiquette demonstrated by the children of our community. Ghosts and goblins and Disney princesses would stump up the steps to the vestibule, thrust out an open pillowcase and stand there sullenly.
There was no eye contact, only the rare “trick or treat”, and thank yous were extremely thin on the ground.
Some of our Halloween guests were so rude as to actually be picky about the candy they were offered. Rejection ranged from disparaging looks to outright criticism.
“You know, your neighbor is giving out full sized chocolate bars.”
“Popcorn? All you got is popcorn? Never mind.”
This was never more evident than the year I thought it would be a novel and health conscious idea to hand out colorful pencils instead of little bags of potato chips. Even Mr. DeMeer questioned the festive spirit behind that decision.
He predicted someone would egg the house.
That shouldn’t have been a surprise. Trick or treating, or “guising” (from “disguising”), traditions began in the Middle Ages. Children and poor adults would dress up in costumes and go around door to door during Hallowmas begging for food or money in exchange for songs and prayers, often said on behalf of the dead.
(Google is grand. It is truly grand.)
This practice made it to the Americas in the late nineteenth century, only western children turned the tables, so to speak. Instead of offering a service in exchange for food, they threatened their neighbors with vandalism and theft. Give me a treat or I will play a trick. No food? I will take the wagon wheels off your buckboard.
Give me a pencil? I will egg your house.
Armed with this understanding I launched a one-woman campaign to return Halloween trick or treating to its original and gentle roots. Children knocking on the DeMeers’ front door on Halloween had to perform in some way – make some kind of engagement – before receiving a treat.
Little girls dressed as cats had to meow. Little boys dressed as Harry Potter had to demonstrate a spell. Often trick or treaters just had to answer a simple question related to their costumes. Where did Dracula live? Who was Tinker Bell’s best friend?
Halloween stops were more time consuming at the DeMeer home but they almost always included laughter, and there was often a line up snaking down the walk. My best Halloween memory is of a little girl dressed as some kind of pony manufactured by Mattel. She might have been five-years-old, very bright and approval seeking, and had no troubles answering her question: a baby horse is called a colt.
About five minutes later she appeared again at the front door.
Hmmmmmm? A double-dipper?
The little pony was quick to assure me she didn’t want another package of gum. Yes she had gone back and stood at the end of the line but she appealed to me with enormous, hopeful eyes. “Can I just have another question?”
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