Lawson writes . . . sharing thoughts and memories

October 29, 2010

Trick or Treat

Filed under: Uncategorized — lawsonjolly @ 5:00 am

It’s that time of year!  Streets filled with children walking up to each house, ringing the bell, and shouting, “Trick or treat!”  when the door is opened!  Everyone in America knows this tradition on Halloween!

This custom has its origins from Europe.  Britain and Ireland had a history in the form of the children and poor people going house to house to sing and offer prayers for the dead.  The families would reward them with small cakes.  In Scotland and Ireland, the children later began to go in costumes from door to door asking for food and coins.

Trick or treat, as we know it, is truly an American tradition.  It has changed today from its early American roots . . . and not too long ago.  I remember my father telling stories.  It was simply a time of vandalism.  He always told how one Halloween they “stole” (not the word he used) a wagon — the kind pulled by a mule!  They dismantled it enough to transport it to the roof of the train depot, and then reassembled it.  Straddling the peak of the roof, it remained a city blight for several months.

Acts of vandalism preceded our present custom of Trick or Treat.  As a young boy, I was not exposed to any activity on Halloween.  My introduction to Trick or Treat came when I was about eleven or twelve years old.  Just after dark, several of us were playing outside.  There was a boy about sixteen years old visiting an aunt.  He was a “city” boy that knew something about Trick or Treat.  He explained it to us . . . and so we all consented to participate.

I remember so well the exact house we went to.  The “new” friend knocked on the door.  When a man I knew well answered the door, our leader shouted, “Trick or treat!”  The man looked at him in bewilderment.  “What?” was the response of our neighbor.  He had no idea what the boy was implying.

Our sophisticated new friend explained that if he did not give us some candy or coins, we would play a trick on him.  With that explanation, the man closed the door.  Thus, our word had to be kept!  It was trick time!  That is not really the word — it was vandalism time!

Under the tutelage of our leader, we proceeded to remove the chairs and table from the man’s porch.  We carried them down the street to another house and placed them on that porch.  I don’t remember that it was fun — just hard work.  And I think I had more of a fear of being punished than a joy from such a trick!

I know that as a teenager, trick or treat in our community was not in vogue yet.  What little activity there was on Halloween beyond parties, I would call vandalism.  Roads were sometimes blocked with debris, “outhouses” were removed, transported by a pick-up truck and placed in someone’s yard, “For Sale” signs were removed from homes and placed in other yards, and some business windows were painted with graffiti.

One Halloween, a friend wanted to erect something in the yard of his supposed girlfriend.  I offered my car to help.  A large timber was to be taken to her yard.  The timber was tied on the side of the car — the passenger’s side.  As we were traveling toward the home, one of our group had fire crackers.  He decided to light one and throw it out the window.  It was a cold night — the windows were up!  He forgot the windows were up!  The fire cracker hit the inside of the window, of course, and dropped to the floorboard.

Quickly, I stopped the car and bailed out!  The others couldn’t get out because of the timber on the side of the car.  Yeah, you’ve got it!  It was trick or treat time in that car!  I guess it was good payment for the vandalism planned!

Somewhere in the late 1940s, what we now know as Trick or Treat swept America.  It is now socially accepted — especially if you live in an area with many children.  Dressed in costumes, it is a delight for the children to shout, “Trick or Treat!”  We understand the “trick” is more of an idle threat — if no “treat” is given.

In some areas, however, it has started getting a little rough!  We saw it move in that direction where we lived for many years.  It was a wonderful neighborhood with many children.  It was exciting to answer the door and provide treats.  Accompanied by parents on the porch, or waiting in the street, the children felt safe and excited about what they would receive.

After a few years, it got out of hand in our neighborhood.  Trucks would bring groups — salted with many teenagers — to the entrance of our subdivision, and unload!  They became very demanding.  After a couple of years, all of us as residents would sit in our yards by the street to prevent such large groups from storming the door.  It was a matter of just handing out candy.  Joy was lost by the homeowners as the giving of the treats to so many outsiders was more of a “pay off.” And when the candy was exhausted — or we were — we had to stay concerned about the roaming teenagers!  It almost seems that “Trick or Treat” is going full circle in some places.

My hope is that the implication of the word “Trick” will never be really understood by the children that one day will become teenagers.  May this festival night be one of safety, joy, and respect.



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