Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Trick or Treat--Whither Thou Goest?

In the nearly 16 years I’ve lived in New York City I have never had one single trick-or-treater. Not one. Ever. Does this seem odd for a city known for its wild Halloween celebrations? I suppose I can understand the trepidation parents would feel allowing their children to trick-or treat in a city like New York. For if there are sick individuals out there who put razor blades in apples as we were taught fear as children, they must all certainly live in New York—even in doorman buildings.

Trick or treating does go on in New York I am told though. I know from friends who grew up here which buildings were great for trick-or-treating and which were poor. I’ve seen sign-up sheets in lobbies of friend’s buildings where one can sign up to be a participating trick-or-treat apartment so the little kiddies know who to bother. But in New York trick-or-treating is mostly a dead tradition.

This seems so far removed from the childhood I knew where my siblings and I would change into costumes right after school and begin our trick-or-treat trek at 4 PM and continue till the streetlights came on. That was always our curfew. When we got a little older, of course we could stay out later, but always in groups and only in familiar neighborhoods. We lived in a development that bordered on two others which were all great for trick-or-treating. We lived in the newest one with the largest houses which made the distance from door to door a little longer. The best use of one's time, however, was neighboring Sedgefield which had grid streets (not the meandering “drives” our development had) and row upon row of 1950s ranches and split-levels on small lots which made it the most bang for your trick-or-treat buck.

But the best house in all three neighborhoods was the Stensgaard’s, hands down! They lived on a mostly wooded lot and would set up Styrofoam headstones among the dried oak leaves in the front yard. The entry way was covered with spray-on cobwebs and a mummy for which the Stensgaard’s daughter posed years before would greet you at the door. Spiders and skeletons hung about as well. All this was accompanied by a recording of scary sounds being piped throughout the yard and in the house. It was terrifying as a young child. Once inside, you had to spin a wheel with numbers on it from 1 to 4. Whatever number the wheel landed on was how many pieces of candy you were entitled to (the rules were more relaxed for younger kids.) The candy was in a big cauldron like container and you got to choose you own. They always had the best varieties.

Once we returned home with our sacks full of candy we’d dump them out on the kitchen table for our mother to inspect for those famous razor blades. We were also not allowed to keep anything unwrapped which was fine with us because who wanted a lousy old apple or homemade popcorn ball anyway? Once we got the okay from Mom, we would stash our loot in our rooms in one of the many large Tupperware bowls from the kitchen. Usually I went through my candy in about a week. But it was my sister Janet who was the envy of us all with such restraint she could ration her Halloween candy all the way to Thanksgiving.

Sadly these recollections of my childhood seem quaint--like mere relics of a bygone, "Leave it to Beaver" era. Is trick-or treating dead in America? How about where you live…do they still trick or treat?

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At 3:46 PM, Blogger heathandpete said...

We don't get any trick or treaters either, but living on a dirt road with a driveway like ours makes it the house you skip.
But our town and those around do have tons of kids going door to door. Tonight with the boys we will head over to the town green to get our light sticks and walk Main street. It should be fun, I will send you some pics.

At 4:50 PM, Blogger Y | O | Y said...

We get about 75 here and my Halloweens growing up were similar to yours. The last place in California where I lived, in Santa Ana, we had 500 kids every year. Our neighbors warned us when we moved in...we stocked up on the treats but didn't really believe them...and then the deluge hit! You could just about set your watch by it...5:30-7. None before and none after.

At 5:34 PM, Blogger Donnie said...

I don't give candy because my neighborhood doesn't have many kids of "trick-or-treat" age.

At 7:33 PM, Blogger Mike said...

As a child, I lived on military bases mostly, so ToTing was always a barrel of fun. And mostly safe, as I recall. However, my mother ALWAYS went through our candy before we ate any - and eating out on the street before we got home was strictly verboten.

We (TheHusband) and I are disappointed year at the smaller and smaller crowds we get. So far this year, it is the same.

At 7:07 AM, Blogger LSL said...

What fun to read about your Halloween memories. Mine are similar.

This year I went to my sister's to hand out candy, so I put a sign on my door to "please take one" and then put out a big bowl of candy. People at work asked if I was going for the Miss Naive 2007 award, but I was certain that Trick-or-Treators would show restraint. I got home later and a few candies were gone, but so was my pumpkin. What's that about? Also, later I realized I put a sign on my door that basically said, "Hey, I'm not home all evening!" That's not so bright.

At 2:41 PM, Blogger David said...

We don't really do it here, although it is just starting to get popular. We have bonfire night next week instead. Your memories sound really sweet though.

At 11:02 PM, Blogger Matt said...

The kids around here do, although it kinda goes up and down each year. Our neighborhood keeps going through a gentrifying/gang-shooting-palooza cycle. But we've made a name for ourselves as having the scariest, spookiest house in the neighborhood, so we always have the faithful coming to see what we've added this year ...

At 7:37 AM, Blogger Scott said...

Had a whole big bowl full of treats, scary Halloween sounds playing through the windows and the giant, inflatable jack-o-lantern in the yard...only about 20 kids...what a bust.

At 1:17 PM, Blogger BigAssBelle said...

what fun to read, and so much like my own childhood experience. i remember the post-trick-or-treat examination for razor blades, sure to have been pressed into an apple or something by some new-to-town new yorker ;-)

seriously, though, halloween was a fabulous "holiday" and one in which we participated to the fullest extent. hours and hours of traipsing from house to house in dark of night, candy sacks dragging, little costumes turning to limp tatters in the evening damp.

i can still find the house which, every year, distributed full size hershey bars. great fun to remember and a tragedy for kids who don't get that experience these days. yup, tragedy. that serious a loss, the freedom of childhood, now all wrapped up tight and constrained with phones and GPS systems and constant supervision.

At 1:50 PM, Blogger Diane said...

Yes, it was the best neighborhood for trick or treating. I bet it's still good for Halloween. I also remember Mommy going through all our bags and picking out the apples and popcorn balls -- and the Mary Janes! I remember thinking -- how can anything with a mustard and yellow wrapper taste good?


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