While most certainly not just a North American occasion, Halloween is celebrated in different ways all over the world, and not always at the end of October.
October 31st is a day that is circled on the calendars of elementary school kids all over the world. It’s a fun celebration with a rich history that continues even today as a tradition derived from ancient festivals and religious rituals. Common activities include costume parties, trick-or-treating, pranks and games, and maybe the odd haunted house.
From Witches to Draculas, to Princesses to Supermans, and even the odd Professional Athlete, the idea is pretty simple; dress up as something you like, take a bag of some kind (pillow cases worked well), and walk around to houses in the neighborhood and ask for candy. On any other day of the year, it would be an absolute no-no, but on October 31st, it’s totally fine!
Halloween or Hallowe’en
Both spellings are dictionary-accepted forms , though the apostrophe spelling is more common outside the United States. It should always be capitalized, even when it is used as an adjective.
Hallowe’en is a contraction of All Hallows’ Evening, and it’s a which originated with the Celtic calendar, marking the first day of the year as November 1st. When the Catholic Church named November 1st All Saints’ Day or All Hallows, October 31st became All Hallows’ Eve, like Christmas Eve.
I’ve never seen or heard of such a thing, but by this logic, it only makes sense that going trick-or-treating dressed as Santa Claus is 100% reasonable.
… smell my feet, give me something good to eat, not to big, not too small, just the side of Montreal.”
This little song is most likely an exclusively Canadian thing, but it’s still funny. By and large, a simple “trick or treat” would suffice, and “yes”, it can be used as a verb of sorts. It’s common to hear things like, “We’re going trick-or-treating at 5 o’clock”, “We took the kids out trick-or-treating last night”, or even “There were a lot of trick-or-treaters out last night!”
The act of trick-or-treating has a few unwritten rules that everyone should at least try to follow. For instance, if the porch lights are off, it means that the house doesn’t have candy; you should only ring the doorbell once; and parents or guardians should always check the candy before the kids dive in.
In recent years, the phenomenon of the “teal pumpkin” has emerged. For kids who suffer from severe food allergies, Halloween is not the coolest of things for them to attend. A lot of treats contain peanuts or another potentially dangerous allergy-causing ingredients so some homes hand out toys or other goodies during Halloween instead. These families put out a blue pumpkin on their doorsteps to let kids with allergies know that they can visit safely and get small toys or presents instead of candy.
Whatever you decide to give out, just don’t be “that guy” who decides to give a toothbrush and toothpaste!
How much and how many?
Back home in the Northern Alberta (Canada) town of Peace River, where my mom and dad still live, Halloween is serious business. Our house is on a primary street in a residential area and close to 3 different schools as well as a couple of playgrounds. On average, we get around 250 kids coming to the house between about 4pm and 9pm every year.
My mom puts Halloween decorations all over the house with all kinds of things, though not quite to the same degree as Christmas. Skeletons, bats, and ghosts can be seen taped to the windows, along with a few pumpkins that were grown in the garden throughout the summer.
She’ll put together individual bags with a few treats and always keeps a few “better” bags aside for family and friends that stop by. My dad usually just eats and bunch of the candy and mom pretends not to notice.
Food for thought
Pumpkin carving, also known as “making a jack-o-lantern”, is typically done the days before, with a few really creative pumpkin stencils taken from magazines or the internet. A pro tip for any first-timers out there; the pumpkin seeds can be cleaned and roasted in the oven for a nice little snack in the days that follow.Companies have certainly done their part to cash in on the occasion. In the US alone, consumers spent $9.1 billion for Halloween in 2017, up from $8.4 billion the year before. That doesn’t include businesses like Starbucks and their Pumpkin Spice mania!
As a Canadian living in Italy, I’m often asked about the weather back home, in particular, “When does the snow arrive?”. I always used Halloween as a sort of benchmark to what the winter would be like; kind of like my own Groundhog Day.
If we had snow on October 31st, that was usually a bit “early” for where we lived. More than anything, it made going out a lot less enjoyable if there was the added risk of slipping on the ice!
Older and wiser
My last trick-or-treated was when I was about 13, which by today’s standards is probably a year too old. In my experience here in Italy and working in more “international” companies, employees can get away with wearing a bit of a costume to the office, even if it’s just a funny shirt.
There’s no question, Halloween is for kids, though teachers probably enjoyed the occasion to have some kind of Arts and Crafts projects during the lessons. And while I’m not expecting anyone to come to my door this year, I’ll probably be sure to buy some chocolate so I can watch some Simpsons Treehouse of Horrors.
As far as a costume is concerned, that’s easy; it’s a great day to wear my Team Canada hockey jersey; not that I really needed an excuse!