Happy Hallowe’en! I love this time of year, as I’ve explained before. The crisp air, the falling leaves, the hint of winter in the air, saying good-bye to the heat and humidity of summer…I love it all.
When I was a little girl, every year I’d sit in front of the TV and watch the Charlie Brown Hallowe’en Special, in which Linus gets a little muddled about his holiday traditions. He sits out all night in the local pumpkin patch (where were his parents??) and awaits the Great Pumpkin’s arrival. His friends think he’s insane but he is steadfast and true to his beliefs.
I felt sorry for Linus because I knew what Hallowe’en was really about: candy. Lots and lots o’ candy. Pumpkins were something Dad carved for us, and we were best out of the room when he did, due to the amount of swearing and trash-talking involved. Pumpkins were only interesting to me once the candle was put inside and the lid (the pumpkin’s adorable little hat) was placed on top.
We were traditionalists, in that we only had evilly smiling pumpkins on offer. These days, pumpkin faces can be jolly, sexy, abstract art, or humorous. My former-future-son-in-law (he’s now an official in-law; don’t make me explain further) invited us over one year for a pumpkin-carving party and my heart was stolen when I saw his (in the middle):
Montreal Canadiens for the win!
When I was 7, I was allowed to go out trick-or-treating with my friends. Amazing to think parents would let us out on our own, but they did. We put on our costumes, usually store-bought with a plastic moulded mask held on with a small elastic round the head, armed ourselves with pillow cases to carry our loot, hung a UNICEF box round our necks for donations from the houses whose doorbells we’d ring, and off we’d go into the dark night. Some years, due to the cold, we’d have to struggle along wearing a winter jacket underneath our costumes as well. Our parents had two caveats for us:
- Do not eat any food until you return home. Anything you’re given has the potential to poison or slice your throat into ribbons and you have to let us look at it before you consume it.
- Do not enter any person’s house for any reason.
Need I say we disobeyed both rules? The food I assumed would most likely kill me was the apple rolling round at the bottom of my bag and I can tell you right now, there was no way I was going to eat that when I had mini-Smarties, Coffee Crisps, Rockets and potato chips to get through first.
I felt quite safe from poison and razor blades with pre-packaged goods, so kept the wrappers in my pocket to be disposed of the next day at school.
I broke the second rule a fair amount as well, especially when the homeowners said “come in, come in! We’re just finishing wrapping up the caramel popcorn balls, it won’t take a minute!” They were and it did, so all was fine. I’d eat those on my way round the neighbourhood as well, because I know my mother frowned upon homemade treats and would want to inspect it first. Inspecting, in her eyes, meant mashing it to death and I just couldn’t allow that to happen, so down the hatch it went.
Hallowe’en wasn’t just about the candy (ha, who am I kidding, of course it was). It was also about the fun we’d have at school, drawing the same scene over and over again on black card, using orange and white crayons to their full effect. I could replicate that scene again today. It involved a black night, a full moon, fence, bare tree, owl sitting on tree, arched-back cat on fence post , pumpkin on the ground, and a witch flying on her broomstick.
In Hong Kong, when I had children of my own, I would send them out in total safety, because we lived in a 20-storey building and we had watchmen to keep an eye on the kids. In a custom totally different from my own, my girls would take the lift to the top floor, ring the doorbells, get the loot, then walk down the stairwell, repeating at every floor until they arrived at the ground level. They must have been about 10 and 8 years old when, one year, they rang the doorbell of an elderly man’s home. He peeked through the security chain on his door, and what he saw must have astonished him: 2 young children, one in a white sheet with holes for eyes and the other in a pirate outfit. Both had those plastic pumpkin baskets (amateurs, ours were so much bigger in my day!), and were undoubtedly holding them out in his direction. The gentleman closed the door on the girls, who shrugged at their bad luck and went to the next door to try their luck there.
His door opened quietly and he gestured for them to come over to him. They did so, the lure of possible treats being stronger than safety concerns. The door was still only open a crack, but he pulled back, opened it wider and with a huge smile on his face, he presented each girl with a can of Campbell’s Soup.
The girls accepted their gift, but were pretty bewildered by it. I had to explain that in HK, a lot of people don’t know what Hallowe’en is, and the poor old man probably thought the two sisters were beggars.
That same night, I had a visitor ringing at the door. I opened it and before me stood a person who was approximately 6 feet tall and totally encased in an alien outfit. He said nothing, not even “trick or treat”. He held his hand out to receive his treats, but I have to say he freaked me right out. I was willing to give him anything, including the family cat, just to get him out of there. He took his chocolate bars, turned on his heel and walked away slowly and deliberately. Weird.
This is what we do to aliens who refuse to say “please” and “thank you”
Now I live in London, I wonder what tonight will be like. Will my windows be soaped? My outhouse tipped? Trees toilet-papered? Who knows. What I do know is, it’ll be fun, it’ll remind me of the good old days when I could roam the neighbourhood with no parental supervision, when I could dress up in any disguise and eat candy and chips until I got a stomach ache and had to spend the rest of the night close to the bathroom. You can’t buy that kind of happiness!