Michelle Martin

Trick or treat

Sunday, October 27, 2013

From ghoulies and ghosties and longleggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night, the good Lord protect us.” — Scottish prayer

It’s that time of year again: children all around the United States are raiding their moms’ and dads’ closets, going to costume stores and discount stores and breaking out the felt and hot glue guns to come up with a costume for that least controlled holiday tradition, trick-or-treating.

I’m old enough that my memories seem tinged with sepia tones to my children, and my tales of trick-or-treating probably are enhanced by a little bit of selective memory, and a lot of the phenomenon of everything seeming bigger and better when you are smaller and less jaded.

I also had the advantage of a mother who could sew, and who didn’t mind cutting down her prom dress for me, so yes, I had pretty great costumes. We didn’t have a lot of gore, however. The only fake blood I remember was a spot on a bandage wound around my brother’s head when he was a Revolutionary War minuteman.

We did have a lot of candy. We didn’t take orange plastic pumpkin pails; we took pillowcases, and filled them up. And sometimes went back out for more. As I said, I’m not sure my recollections are entirely accurate.

Trick-or-treating, once I was older than 7 or so, was a strictly kids-only activity. Parents stayed home and answered the door to other trick-or-treaters. We kids traveled in packs, roving not just through our immediate neighborhoods, but for several blocks around. The older kids were equipped with flashlights, because, way back when, Daylight Savings Time was over by the end of October and it got dark by 5 p.m.

Some things were the same: our parents told us not to eat any candy until we got home and they could inspect it, which we for the most part did, even though there has never been a documented case in the United States of a child being seriously injured by adulterated Halloween candy provided by a stranger. Trick-ortreaters face far more danger from being hit by cars as they traverse dark streets on Halloween night. Still, it’s always a good idea to be careful of food provided by people you don’t know.

But that’s the thing about Halloween: It’s a night when kids get to do the kinds of things they don’t usually get to do. They put on costumes to disguise themselves and ring people’s doorbells and ask for treats, in a world where the usual rule is don’t take candy from strangers. And most kids eat far too much of it when they get home, and a good number of them go to bed too late for a school night, with aching stomachs.

Having license to do things we normally don’t — not things that are evil, or immoral, per se, but just maybe a little outside the bounds of common sense — is what makes the holiday so much fun for kids, and maybe reminds them of why, the rest of the year, it’s wise to practice the virtue of moderation.