Friday, October 29, 2010

Where's the TRICK in Trick or Treat?

©2010 by LeeZard

LeeZard is concerned that the true spirit of Halloween is lost. Forget about the day’s historic Celtic origins; I’m talking about the time-honored tradition of TRICK or treat. Back in the day, LeeZard remembers when you actually “tricked” someone who failed to give you a treat.

Wait; forget about forgetting about Halloween’s origins. It turns out the Celts also started the trick or treat thing. According to, Halloween grew from the ancient Celts’ celebration of Samhuinn, the beginning of winter or the dark half of the year:

"Being “between” seasons or years, Samhuinn was (and is) considered a very magical time, when the dead walk among the living and the veils between past, present and future may be lifted in prophecy and divination.

Samhuinn, from 31 October to 2 November was a time of no time. Celtic society, like all early societies, was highly structured and organized; everyone knew their place. But to allow that order to be psychologically comfortable, the Celts knew that there had to be a time when order and structure were abolished, when chaos could reign. And Samhuinn was such a time. Time was abolished for the three days of this festival and people did crazy things, men dressed as women and women as men. Farmers’ gates were unhinged and left in ditches, peoples’ horses were moved to different fields, and children would knock on neighbors’ doors for food and treats in a way that we still find today, in a watered-down way, in the custom of trick-or-treating on Halloween.”

I understand that times have changed since I tricked if I wasn’t treated. In those days, kids for the most part went out by themselves – that is, we went out in groups of our peers without parental supervision of accompaniment. Sadly, there are enough crazies out there today that parental involvement is the safe and smart way to go. Having said that, however, LeeZard still laments the disappearance of the lighthearted trickster ritual.

Today’s teens are too cool to partake but in my youth, it was an evening for which we eagerly awaited. Not only was there unlimited candy, there also was the opportunity for creative, mostly non-vandalistic mischief.

The rules were simple, if you knocked on a door and nobody was home, you simply left. But, if you knocked on a door and the lights were on, the television blaring but nobody came to the door, the tricks were on. If someone answered but gave no treats, the tricks ramped up.

Tricks ranged from the simply sophomoric to the more elaborate. We always armed ourselves with pieces of thick pastel chalk so we could label a delinquent home as “cheap” or worse. Some of us took an old sock, filled it about a third of the way up with said chalk, tied a knot at that point and pounded the chalk to powder. This predecessor to paintball spawned great chases through the neighborhood with swinging sox throwing great puffs of chalk powder, leaving colorful marks on victims’ clothes, on sidewalks, driveways and walls.

Then there was the requisite stop at the home of someone’s girlfriend. Here there was no door knocking; we were there to leave a large deposit of toilet paper hanging from trees and anything else in front of the house.

LeeZard would be remiss if he didn’t cop to some of the more vindictive tricks from those wild days of youth. As a – ahem – mature adult, I don’t condone this sort of behavior today but good reporting requires the truth, no matter how ugly. Yes, we soaped some windows and threw eggs at some front doors but it was the final battle with a neighborhood nemesis that became legend.

There was a woman in our neighborhood we called “Cockeyed Jenny.” Even though Jenny had kids of her own, she seemed to hate kids in general. She sprayed her hose at us as we rode our bikes past her house and constantly yelled threatening epithets at our innocent pastimes of stickball or Ringolevio (see for information on this legendary New York City street game). Oh, we had our non-Halloween revenge – regularly cutting her hose to pieces when she watered the lawn in the summer – but it was one grand Halloween when we gained the most satisfaction.

I’m not sure who suggested it but nobody objected when we embarked on the Great Shitty Hotfoot Caper. It was a given that Jenny never answered her door on Halloween. Our job was not only to get her to the door but also to make her pay for her mean spirit. The recipe was simple, one medium sized paper bag, a fresh pile of dog poop and a lighter.

Rock, paper, scissors determined who did the deed. The winners – two of us – stealthily approached Jenny’s front door and left “the package” right at the point where whoever stepped out of the house could not miss it. While one conspirator put lighter to the paper bag the other knocked loudly on the door and at the top of his lungs yelled, “FIRE, FIRE!” Sure enough, as the culprits safely scurried into the night, Jenny appeared at the door, saw the flaming bag and did what anyone would do under the circumstances, she tried to stomp the fire out with her foot. SQUISH!!! And victory was ours.

Whether Jenny called the gendarmes or not we’ll never know. We were long gone by the time she had the fire out and cleaned her shoe. But the war was over; no more bicycle riders were sprayed and our street games continued unmolested.

LeeZard is not recommending this sort of mayhem and, frankly, in today’s environment, I’d be as worried as anybody about what youngsters might do. I am merely reminiscing the spirit of Halloweens past and the days when “Trick or Treat” meant just that.