This Sunday, October 31st, is Halloween. Halloween is the second most celebrated holiday in the US. It derives from the pagan harvest festivals of times gone by. Kids dress up in scary or funny costumes and knock on the doors of strangers and say, "Trick or treat!"
The phrase "trick or treat" is a child's charm or joke--the child is wishing harm on the house's occupants if they don't give him candy or some small treat. It's a child's curse because it's a childlike point of view, but we indulge children on this day, and when they ring the bell in their costumes and say, "Trick or treat," we invariably give them some treat to remain in their good favor.
Let's start with a couple of basic things. First of all, most children who come to your house on Halloween Eve will be under fifteen. Very young children or groups of very young children will almost invariably be with a parent or older adult supervising. If you wish to indicate that your home is friendly and safe, you can leave your porch light on or leave some indicator that you are home--if you have a screen, you may wish to leave the main door open or if you have a glass door, you may wish to leave the house light on. You should know that if you do these things, it will be interpreted as your home being friendly and your doorbell will ring constantly from about 4 PM to 8 PM.
A word about jack o'lanterns. If you aren't used to this tradition it can be a bit confusing. There's some great history on Jack O Lanterns at this link.
Essentially, a jack o'lantern is a way of identifying your house as a friendly home in the spirit of the Halloween celebration. A jack o lantern is a carved pumpkin. You carve a face into a pumpkin like these , and then cut the top of the pumpkin off, scoop out the seeds and pulp, and put a lit candle inside the pumpkin. That makes the face seem to glow with an eerie internal glow.
The pumpkin pulp is hard to use, but the seeds of the pumpkin can be roasted on a cookie sheet or in a toaster oven...spread them out on a cookie sheet, heat the oven to five hundred degrees, and roast 'em until they turn golden brown. Salt 'em a couple of times while you cook 'em. Deeee lish.
BEWARE! If you put a jack o lantern outside of your house, there is a chance that it will be smashed. This is the work of immature teenage boys and girls who don't know how to honor someone else's hard work and desire to be friendly. The best you can do is to understand that smashing pumpkins is the work of children with the frame of mind of a mean spirited ten year old.
It is appropriate to admire costumes when kids come to your door--indeed it is expected. Many kids put a great deal of time and thought into their costumes--it is done because they want to play pretend. Children have great imaginations, and Halloween is night to let those imaginations run wild. Noticing it is always appreciated.
If you turn off your porch light, do not put a jack o lantern out, and keep your house lights dim or dark, the likelihood is that no one will ring your doorbell looking for treats.
Appropriate treats to give include: a small amount of money, like a quarter or fifty cents, lollipops, chocolates, small snack size candy bars, and so on. If you prefer to give healthy things, and many do these days, you can give dried fruit (ALWAYS IN A FACTORY SEALED PACKAGE, NEVER LOOSE), small bags of baked chips--I believe that places like Whole Foods and similar type places have healthy Halloween snacks.
A note if you take your kids trick or treating: Examine all candy before they eat it. Every year, there are two or three cases of people putting razor blades in apples or rat poison in candy. You just have to be careful--it's pretty obvious when this has been done. People who do these things are very unusual, sick, crazy people and they lock them up when they catch them...but they are out there and you should be careful.
Oh yes! Mischief Night. Sometimes irresponsible, childlike, thuggish teenagers will throw raw eggs at parked cars or houses, or ring doorbells and run off, or smash jack o lanterns, or throw wet toilet paper at houses, or spread toilet paper all over trees. A good defense is to be wary of the goings on in the front and back of your house and to keep these areas well lit. A video camera or digital video recorder can be invaluable here. Teenagers who think of themselves as the greatest thing going often become frightened when confronted by the police with video or photographic evidence of their misdeeds that you have helpfully provided. The police take this stuff pretty seriously; many towns have curfews for people under 17.
All right. I think that covers the basics. If you have any questions about the cultural issues involved with Halloween, or want to know how to handle it or how to get into the spirit of the festival, and maybe take some Accent Reduction or ESL Lessons while you are at it, give me a call at (732) 776-7964 to set up an appointment. Remember that I offer a free short, 10-15 minute phone consultation and a free trial lesson! I'd love to hear from you!