British Trick Or Treat

London, Observatory

I can see that Halloween works in America – I imagine trick or treating youngsters dressed up, collecting candy – but of course that’s not good enough for the anarchistic British, who are used to throwing fireworks about on Guy Fawkes night one week later, so on Halloween this year, my friend Maggie Armitage nearly had her house burned to the ground when a couple of morons lobbed a flaming pumpkin through her lounge window.

Luckily it went out, but glass exploded everywhere, and the police later told her that the night was a disaster, with hundreds of emergency calls logged as Halloween events got out of hand. Why is it that whenever the British celebrate something they take it to extremes? What is it in the national psyche that must always push things as far as they will go? Is it entirely attributable to alcohol, or is it part of our social programming?

Related book: The London Mob – Robert Shoemaker
A study that traces violence back to the eighteenth century habit of riot and discord.

6 comments on “British Trick Or Treat”

  1. Sam Tomaino says:

    Here in America, when I was a child, we used to have “Mischief Night” on October 30, but it was usually “harmless pranks” (ringing doorbells, soaping up windows, or, at worst, throwing eggs). On Halloween, we wanted our candy and devoted our energies to that.

    In 1982 (when I was 30), Halloween Trick or Treating took a big hit when someone went into a store and put poison into jars of Tylenol. People died. Everyone got freaked out and parents were scared to let their kids go out.

    Now, Halloween here is more geared to costume parties & parent escoretd Trick Or Treat. It has also stolen things from Christmas. People decorate their houses, with orange lights and large spooky figures. Stores even have “Halloween Gingerbread House” kits.

  2. Helen Martin says:

    I remember that Tylenol thing, but it wasn’t connected to Halloween. There was a lot of reported tampering with over the counter medication and toothpaste. There were stories later about contaminated candy but most of the stories turned out to be urban myths, especially the razor blades in apples tales. Unfortunately, people picked up the idea and there was a woman who actually found a razor blade in a candy bar this year. In our school neighbourhood a few years ago there was a report of Tylenol being handed out as candy, but that turned out to be someone who didn’t realize what the Tylenol was and thought it was candy.
    My mother told me about turning outhouses over or worse, moving them back five feet. (You have to think about that for a minute.)

  3. Sam Tomaino says:

    No, the Tylenol thing was not connected to Halloween, but I seem to remember it happened shortly before and the knee-jerk reaction was to cancel Trick or Treating in some towns. It was one of those knee-jerk reactions that made no sense. Nonetheless, the days when a kid could walk alone (or with a friend) for blocks and fill a pillow case with candy are gone and I believe it started about then.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    You may very well be right and I know that all the malls have Halloween events so kids can trick or treat and stay both dry and safe. We had 27 kids at our door, in groups and very giggly, except for the dragon babe in arms, who wasn’t too sure about the whole thing.

  5. Dylan Lancaster says:

    We had mischief night here in the north of England too. I haven’t thought of it in years, I had no idea it happened in other places too.

  6. Sisi says:

    My late friend Isaac’s article on the origins of Halloween is here: http://www.neopagan.net/Halloween-Origins.html
    It started out as “Mischief Night,” and when the rowdy teenagers got out of hand in the 1930’s, the holiday was repurposed for children. In my childhood there was sort of unwritten rule that one stopped going out for trick-or-treat at adolescence unless (horror!) one was stuck babysitting younger siblings.

    Nowadays it’s mostly sullen teenagers who go door-to-door demanding candy with varying degrees of menace, and adults have their own parties, too. The children are driven around by their anxious parents to closely-supervised parties (during the daytime, yet) or to the wealthier neighborhoods. *snort* In my day, we waited till nightfall and went on foot in our own neighborhoods. This fits with the anthropological meaning of the holiday (from link above): “Halloween is a time that reconfirms the social bond of a neighborhood (particularly the bond between strangers of different generations) by a ritual act of trade. Children go to lengths to dress up and overcome their fear of strangers in exchange for candy. And adults buy the candy and overcome their distrust of strange children in exchange for the pleasure of seeing their wild outfits and vicariously reliving their own adventures as children.

    In other words, the true value and importance of Halloween comes not from parading in costumes in front of close friends and family, but from this interchange with strangers, exorcising our fears of strangers, reaffirming our social bond with the people of the neighborhood who we rarely, if ever, see the rest of the year. ”

    Snopes.com debunked the poisoned candy myth: http://www.snopes.com/horrors/poison/halloween.asp The one genuine poisoning in 1974 was a man who killed his own son for the insurance money. This resulted in a needless general ban on accepting any treats that were not in sealed brand-name packaging. When I was a child, we loved getting homemade treats because they were always much nicer than the industrial products. As a cynic, I’ve always suspected that the myth was kept alive by the makers of industrial sweets. There was an incident several years ago when someone was caught putting pot-laced candy in the mail. That was at a different time of year and was not aimed at children (stupid drug dealers) but somehow the incident ramped up the fear.

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