I was just thinking the other day (which is how it always starts, at least in the documented, behavioral surveys, but as I mentioned ‘that’s how it always starts’, so I have to run with it) that Halloween is one of those multi-purpose occasions that can be lumped in with several other gift-giving celebrations such as Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries and the like, but with one notable difference. That difference is that Halloween is a true celebration of CHOICE. Children arrive on your doorstoop dressed in costumes (to mask their true identities) and essentially pander for your goodies. The little beggars don’t demand your goodies outright—though they do pose a question in an untimely and rather urgent fashion: they bombard you with a chorus of “Trick Or Treat”. Which, in case you hadn’t noticed, is not really a statement, but rather a fairly interesting question: trick OR treat? Now, I remember very few instances wherein tricks were substituted for treats and those few were proffered by mysterious neighbors that never seemed to be at home for the majority of the year, yet somehow managed to materialize on Halloween night. And if that’s not creepy enough for you, they all turned out to be itinerant storytellers or closet magicians. Tricks just didn’t have quite the same flavor as treats, nor for that matter any noticeable heft.
But, and I must re-emphasize this, “trick or treat” is an option—a choice solely in the hands of the door-owner. Which calls to mind another, more intriguing question: if you’re not sneaky enough to get away with an impromptu feat of prestidigitation, what then is the qualifying factor that determines the nature of a treat? Now, if you were as unlucky as I was to be set upon by the Ma and Pa Kettle Folklore Hour, with time running out of Halloween curfew and candy-hoarding tallies being hollered across the treat-strewn battlefield that was the current theater of operations—Help! Help! I’ve got a full bag! Send for reinforcements!—then you too would have been afforded the knowledge that in prehistoric times “treats” usually referred to fruit or popcorn balls or something equally fortifying that could probably feed a family of four for days (if they kept their eyes closed while chewing). “Treats” in pre-mass-production times usually meant something natural or ‘home-made, which unfortunately went out of fashion in the early ’70’s with the urban-myth-mongering tales of razor-blades in apples and nails in candy bars. “Homemade” just couldn’t be trusted, hence the advent of plastic-wrapped, hermetically-sealed individual snack-sized portions, which may in fact be safer, but taste for all the world like the majority of the plastic is inside the wrapper. The simple upshot of modern-day treating is that unless the treats are hand-delivered personally by someone you know and trust with your life insurance policies, the only sure-fire way to ascertain that the goodies are safe is through forensic examination or nigh-impermeable packaging!
Which brings me full-circle to my initial point of ponderment—the celebration of CHOICE. Halloween is a unique “holiday” in that inasmuch as children eagerly anticipate the “free” handouts, adults manage to spend billions annually on costumes, decorations and candy! For my part, though I count myself among the indulgent statistics, I like to think of Halloween as offering another rather unique opportunity. I call it “Pantry Hollow-ing”. You can think of it as Anonymous Philanthropy if it makes you feel more socially-conscious. And it’s so easy. Let’s face it, trick-or-treaters these days are in rather a hurry to beat the curfew deadlines, so they rarely see what’s actually going into their goodie-bags in the first place—dazzle their eyes with a big bowl of brightly-colored candy wrappers and you’re already halfway there. For added stealth, swap out the 250-watt incandescent beacon you call a porchlight for a more subdued, colored party bulb—red, yellow, green or even a blacklight bulb does the trick (no pun intended…it’s there, but “unintentionally”). Then it’s just a matter of deciding of what you feel you can divest yourself. There’s always an extra sleeve of crackers somewhere in the pantry or a long-forgotten box of gelatin or any of a myriad of “Cream-of” soups that you know full well you’ll never get around to using. Candied yams—hey, it’s got ‘candy’ in the name…muffin mix…a bag of stale tortilla chips…boxed mac-n-cheese…deodorants…Easter egg dye kits…Hey, how long has this tub of horseradish ‘n cheddar dip been in here?…it’s bound to be a treat in somebody’s reckoning! The Leutkemeyer’s gave out tubes of toothpaste one year—bless their hygienic, little souls.
The possibilities are endless…as are the potential surprises for your victims…er, beneficiaries. And just for the sheer wonderment that is Halloween…skip the stealthiness altogether and instead use up some of that after-Christmas wrapping paper that sells for 99-cents per lineal mile and gift-wrap your “donations”. That way, you can offer 2 baskets of treats for your little beggars. Make them choose—it’ll be just like voting—you never know what yer gonna get!! And that “box o’ chocklits” might just turn out to be Efferdent!