There was a Canadian woman in Northern Ireland who was well-known in the neighbourhood for taking her kids out trick-or-treating on Halloween night. It’s not a tradition in that country the way it is in Canada, so this was thought a bit odd.
Her trick-or-treating sparked conversations – about how different she was. About how Halloween was starting to become more “Americanized” even in the U.K. More kids were coming out - at our house we’d get maybe 5 kids over the course of a few days.
While you can’t migrate a tradition so reliant on community participation to another country, I understood what she was doing even if the neighbours didn’t – she was trying to give her kids the kind of Halloween she experienced when she was a kid.
That’s exactly why I brought my daughter back to Canada for Halloween week when we lived in Belfast. I wanted her to know Halloween the way that woman and I did: the sense of community, the freedom of walking from house to house, talking to people and getting to know your neighbours, the fun of dressing up in costume, the joy of sorting through piles of candy, separating out the “good stuff” – chocolate bars and potato chips – from the Halloween kisses.
To me, Halloween makes neighbourhoods safer – it brings people together the way shoveling after a snowstorm does: everyone is out at the same time, putting names to faces, catching up on local gossip and working together to do something for the common good.
One of my favourite Halloweens was when, as an adult, I dressed up as Freddy Krueger from the movie Nightmare on Elm Street. I didn’t have children of my own yet– but I wanted to provide a Halloween the neighbourhood kids would remember when they grew up.
I made a curtain of alternating black and orange crepe-paper streamers on the doorframe.
When I heard a knock, I’d stick my hand between the streamers to open the screen door. Without saying a word – I didn’t want my female voice to betray the costume – I’d put some candy in the kid’s bag.
The reactions told me a lot about human nature – particularly the parents’.
One mother said to her son who hung back on the path, afraid to come to the door: “Look at your little sister – she’s braver than you are.” His younger sister had marched up the stairs. Bad mother. I wanted to tell her so, but didn’t want to embarrass the kid. Instead, I spoke and reassured him and he came and got his candy.
Perhaps that kid was just confused by the rules. Halloween must be very odd for them: we spend most of the year teaching them never to go to a stranger’s house and never to take candy from someone you don’t know. Then we urge them up the stairs to strangers’ houses, encouraging them to ask for candy, reminding them to use their manners and say “thank-you.”
Another kid, this one less cautious, said to me as I gave him my silent Freddy stare: “You don’t scare me. You died in Part 6.” Ha! Smart aleck. I gave him candy anyway.
Sometime in the next year or so I ran into that kid on the street. He looked at me with a glint of recognition in his eye.
“I know you. You were Freddy,” he said.
“No I wasn’t,” I denied, trying to keep the fantasy alive. But he nodded with self satisfaction. “Oh yes you were.”
I’m glad he recognized me. He remembered – and that made it all worthwhile.
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I’d love to hear your favourite Halloween moments – please comment and share.
Above all – Happy Halloween …