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Halloween in Kent - the tradition that haunts us

Monday, October 29, 2012
5.03 PM

It won its fight to become part of ‘our’ culture

It’s that time of year again. When thousands of us spend the evening with the lights off, the TV unplugged, and in desperate hope the door bell doesn’t ring.

No, it’s not the traditional steps taken to avoid the TV Licence detector van, or indeed that unexpected visit from the in-laws, but basic avoidance technique when it comes to trick or treat aversion.

My parents used to go into some sort of wartime black-out frenzy when it first took hold. Windows were obscured, my sister and I were not allowed within sight of any pane of glass, and the dogs were tranquilised in case a stray bark gave the suggestion someone lived inside who actually wanted trouble rather than simply couldn’t be bothered to get involved.

But despite their best efforts, trick or treat has now actually become a bona fide tradition in the UK over the last 20 years - rather than simply something those pesky Americans introduced and we decided to adopt on account of it appearing to involve getting loads of free sweets, but then dumped after we got bored. Even though, it must be said, that’s precisely what did happen (except for the stopping it bit, of course).

Personally, I blame the movie ET for highlighting to everyone in the UK that rather than wheeling around a bloke made out of paper who would be torched before a baying mob, and playing with explosive devices which claimed more than a few fingers and toes, there was more fun to be had a week before.

Fireworks were our autumnal treat of choice and for a good little while we fought off any competitor to it. But then we gave that up and decided to embrace both.

All you had to do was dress up in gory attire, carve pumpkin lanterns like they were going out of fashion and take to the streets with an alien you’d just found dressed as a Scooby-Doo spook and you were banking sweets – or should that be candy – all night long.

In fact, for perhaps the first time ever, we get a taste of what it must be like to be an American, high-jacking other cultures to cover up your own lack or history and heritage.

But let’s not get too bogged down in that old chestnut.

No. Because trick or treating is here to stay regardless of whether you still resent it or refuse to join in with it.

And seeing as there appears now to be more of an understanding that the ‘trick’ bit exists only in spirit if not practicality, it’s become a far less terrifying experience.

At least on the streets of Kent.

Granted, were you in an inner city housing estate ruled by gangs and fear, you may not feel quite so confident that refusing to answer your door wouldn’t end up in you receiving a petrol-soaked human turd stuffed through your letterbox, or a brick aimed through the window followed swiftly by the stomp of some ransacking boots.

But I’d like to think that’s just a silly stereotype we have of city folk, in much the same way they think anyone who lives in or near the countryside is a farmer and goes ‘oo-ah’.

Certainly the antisocial aspect of trick or treating appears to have severely lessened.

Today, trick or treating is a case of only answering the door to small children who have made an effort (teens wearing a rubbish little plastic mask need not apply), and certainly only giving the impression someone is home if you can spot their parents loitering at the bottom of your pathway.

What’s more the deal is very simple. Kid knocks on the door, I choose a few sweets to toss in your bucket.

Those poorly disguised teens asking for cash? Well I recommend you look elsewhere.

If you don’t answer the door, most people no longer care – certainly not enough to bother to waste an increasingly expensive egg by hurling it at your door.

And more often than not, by the time 7.30pm comes around, the kids are off the street and you can once again turn the telly on and sit in your frontroom, safe in the knowledge you’re not about to be egged to within an inch of your life.

For all its faults – and it has plenty – there is an argument to say trick or treating, in this era of health and safety lockdowns, is a more civilised and pleasant way to spend a chilly autumnal evening, that letting teenagers buy fireworks and leave them to tie them to any passing cat foolish enough not to leg it away at great speed.

Happy Halloween.