I don’t understand Halloween. It’s really big here in Canada, probably reflecting their symbiotic love/hate relationship with their southern neighbours. I ask some of the locals what Halloween is about and they say “it’s a time for dressing up, trick or treat (if you’re little) and parties (if you’re a bit bigger) eh?” Ah – that’s clear. So – you dress up because it’s Halloween, but it’s Halloween because you dress up. That’s about as logical as test cricket to me so I resort to the source of all wisdom – Wikipedia.
After a bit of research, I discover that Halloween is a bit of a crossover between Celtic and Catholic traditions that marks a night when restless spirits like to wander the streets and do bad things. Stay with me here. So – the cunning plan is, if you dress up like an un-dead spirit and roam the streets at the same time, said bad spirits won’t realise that you’re not one of them and will therefore leave you alone. Ok – that sort of explains the kids dressed as ghosts, but what about all the ones in Disney princess dresses and the superhero costumes?
I decide that it’s simpler to just go with the flow and experience this quintessential USadian festival first hand. It’s 5:30 on Thursday night as we pull in outside a familiar address in 156 Street. Three more cars glide silently in behind us and flash their headlights three times – the prearranged signal for Operation Candyscore. The mothers dash into the command centre while other members of the extended family guard the vehicles and check all the equipment is ready. Flashlights – check, costumes – check, candy bags – check. We get the Go signal and try to slip back into the traffic without attracting the attention of any of the rival playgroups. Our scouts spent half of last night secretly cruising the nearby suburbs and came back with excited tales of the mother lode. There’s a little known collection of streets nearby which have all the boxes ticked – cul-de-sacs so no through traffic to run over little ones, lots of decorated houses (meaning they are happy to receive trick or treaters), and best of all, RVs parked in every second driveway (good treats assured!).
We reach the checkpoint and bundle the troops from their collective car seats. Roll call. Two princesses – here, two ninja turtles – here, one cupcake – yep. A quick strategy meeting to resolve the debate about sending in the princesses or the ninja turtles first and then we’re off. Knock, knock. The first door opens to reveal someone’s sweet grandma with a big bag of treats. Great start. Second door. Family with two little girls who put way too much in each bag. Better and better. The third door is surrounded by fake cobwebs and dangling plastic bats. “Er – you go first dad.” The door opens and someone jumps out and yells Boo! Princesses, ninja turtles and cupcake all scream but are quickly placated by an outpouring of caloried delights.
These scenarios are more or less repeated for the next hour or so. Fortunately, there are way more of the good doors and way less of the scary ones. We finally decide to call a retreat when the big kids start appearing on the streets. This is partly because they have much scarier costumes, partly because there are quite a few illicit fireworks being discharged at random intervals, but mainly because it’s late (7:30pm) wet and cold and the little ones are getting tired.
The alpha squad reassembles back at David and Kirsty’s house. Time to check the haul. Each bag contains at least twenty pieces of candy, some gum, a small packet of Doritos, and a stick of asparagus from Julie C’s Canadian cousin. The parents are about halfway through their spiels about why certain candies are poisonous if eaten by people under twenty-five years of age when the doorbell rings. Everyone freezes, then a little voice echoes from the darkness outside – “trick or treat eh?”