When I were a lass, children went trick-or-treating on their own, without any adult accompaniment. It wasn’t safe, of course, but no one knew that back then
Ah, Halloween. It is, naturally, only as I have got older that I have come to appreciate the true function of such sociocultural rites. Which is, of course, to provide tangible, quantifiable proof (in case the daily headlines, the rise of Michael Gove and the fact that some turd has introduced a competition element into Gareth Malone‘s hitherto shining oeuvre were not enough) that the notion of history as a story of progression is naught but a phantasm that seeks to conceal the fact that the world is going to hell in a handcart.
When I were a lass, children went trick or treating on their own, without any adult accompaniment. We dressed up in black bin-liners, home- or Friday-afternoon-school-made witches’ hats, anything orange (we didn’t know why. I didn’t see a pumpkin until I was 21, in the garden of a posh friend from university – I thought the fecking Triffids had landed), facepaints or felt tip (to be scoured off with Vim, maternal vigour and a rough flannel, so that assembly was filled for the next week with the sound of children tap-tap-tapping experimentally at their full-face scabs) and knocked on doors. Householders would open them, stare down disbelievingly and close them again without saying a word. It was brilliant. We got to dress up, do something different, but all the normal rules still applied. Children like to know where they stand, even if it’s before a closed door damming a hallful of disapproval behind.
Over the next couple of decades, word got around – thanks largely to increased importation and consumption of US network TV – of how the whole thing was supposed to work. The most impoverished denizens of the most impoverished countries set to work with enforced will, making Halloween costumes of artfully tattered plastic, net and nylon to fill whatever supermarket space was left once the quotas of mince pies had been shelved. And all the adults in richer nations learned to play their sweet-dispensing part. Now I stand with a bowl of fun-sized Mars Bars in my hand and a short advisory speech about type-2 diabetes on my lips, waiting for the doorbell to ring.
But these days children go trick or treating only with grown-ups. The superintendents used to stay out of sight a few feet down the road or behind the nearest tree, to preserve the illusion that their charges were alone. But I notice that every year they have stood a little closer. First, they hovered at the gates of each house. Now, they usually come right up to the house and stand a few feet from the children, and carefully in the homeowner’s eyeline, to banish not the pagan fears of Allhallows Eve, but the horrors – real and imagined, but true enough either way – that lurk in the shadows waiting for our children each and every night.
It wasn’t safe, of course, when we went out as kids. At best, I suspect, our greater freedom was only the result of our guardians’ ignorance of the potential dangers to youth. But that is the closest thing we have to remember wistfully as innocence now. Just as the whispered warnings among us youngsters back then, of where the local creeps and weirdos hung out and which bus stops and park bushes were most favoured by flashers, will probably, not too many years from now, come to be glossed as “community spirit”.
- Keep Halloween Safe and Fun for Everyone by Driving Safely (interactive360.wordpress.com)
- Our family doesn’t trick or treat (GASP) (crunchyinalabama.com)