Halloween – a trick or a treat?

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Last week, when sitting in a pub waiting for a friend when I suddenly heard words that I’m not normally accustomed to hearing anywhere other than at my front door on the 31st October; “Trick or treat!” I turned to see a girl, probably between eight and ten years old, dressed up in a ghoulish mask and a black cape. She held out a bucket shaped like a pumpkin which was half filled with coins. It took me a few seconds to realise that what she actually meant by ‘trick or treat’ was ‘money please!’ I muttered an awkward lie about having no change, and she shrugged before skipping off to the next table.

This strange little incident got me thinking about the nature of Halloween’s most infamous tradition, ‘trick-or-treating’. It seems harmless enough in principle. The local kids dress up in their best spooky attire and take to the streets, knocking on doors and chirping the familiar trick or treat chant before leaving with bags full of sweets. Charming. The tradition actually dates back centuries, as far as the middle ages when people would ask for food on Halloween in return for their prayers for the dead. In this day and age, however, modern trick-or-treating is something we tend to associate most with our American counterparts. Along with hamburgers and Hollywood it’s one of those things we’ve happily let drift across the pond from the states. But what happens when people take it too far?

First of all, I can’t speak for everywhere in the UK, but where I come from a vast amount of trick or treat goers at Halloween are not innocent, rosy cheeked little scamps, but smirking teenagers who are probably old enough to smoke and drive, so you’d think they could buy their own chocolate. It’s when the eggs start flying that things start to seem a little more sinister to me. Asking politely, if mischievously, for a treat or two is one thing. Throwing perfectly good food at an old lady’s window because she won’t give you any fizzy cola bottles is another entirely. Tell you what lads, if you’re that desperate for food, why not just take your eggs home and make yourself an omelette?

As for my encounter in the pub last week, it’s that sort of thing that really gets to me. Firstly, it wasn’t even Halloween when she came in. It was mid-October. That’s like asking for presents and turkey on the 12th December. Secondly, it wasn’t sweets she was gunning for, it was cold hard cash. How do I even know what she’s going to spend it on? How do I know it’s even going to her? Perhaps mummy needs some new shoes. Finally, imagine if instead of a kid in a mask, the beggar that night had been a middle aged homeless man. How many people do you think would have given him money? How long do you think it would have been before he was kicked out of the pub? Yet people were actually giving change to this girl. Whether right or wrong, those are unfair double standards.

There’s something hypocritical and a little bit wrong with all this. When does a harmless holiday tradition become nothing more than begging and blackmail? How long before it comes to the point where we have to say “Look, you can have a toffee, but I’m putting my wallet away. And come back on Halloween, it’s only August!”

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