30 October 2022
Halloween has always had a, shall we say, hallowed, place in my heart. The smell of dried leaves, the growing darkness in the evenings, and the spooky atmosphere hold a special promise of excitement. Even more enticing for me as a little kid was the idea of walking around in a costume in the dark.
I always went all out on Halloween. At age 10, I was inspired during a visit to a pumpkin patch. Spotting a particularly large specimen, I thought: Why not hollow this out and use it as a kind of costume by wearing it on my head?
The illusion that this would be a great costume lasted right up until I had finished carving this pumpkin monster and put it on my head. It had escaped me just how heavy a pumpkin can be, and I also hadn’t realized that the downward curve of the stem would poke into my skull. Oh yes, and then there’s the damp, musty pumpkiny smell.
I did earn lots of admiring looks and comments from fellow trick-or-treaters, which was some comfort, at least to the extent that I was able to see and hear them from within my giant gourd helmet. I was sore for a week afterwards from quite literally shouldering 20 pounds of pumpkin for several hours.
Imagine my disappointment when I found out that in Germany, my new home country, most people don’t celebrate Halloween. They do in some neighborhoods, particularly those with lots of children, but we had no such luck in our area. But I just couldn’t allow my kids to miss out on scary costumes, trick-or-treating, or swapping their loot with friends at the end of the evening.
Then I had an idea.
Another American mom and I concocted a solution for our grade-school children. The dining room in her house had two doors to the living room. We set up candy stations behind each door. Decked out in Halloween costumes, our kids raced from one door to the other, knocking and yelling “Trick or treat!”. They loved it.
But when the oldest kids reached the age of eight or so, scurrying back and forth in a living room lost its charm. They wanted real action. It was time to get out the big guns.
It was time for Halloween 2.0.
This scenario required me to do cold calling, something I hadn’t done since working in a call center to earn a few hundred bucks for my college tuition. I had sworn never to do anything remotely like that again, but here I found myself in a similar situation. Armed with an industrial-sized stash of candy and my best friendly smile, I ventured out to knock on the doors of neighbors I had never met.
The things we do for our kids.
I warmed up to my unpleasant task by stopping first at our immediate next-door neighbors, who I knew personally. To my relief, they were familiar with the tradition of Halloween and agreed to take some candy to pass out to my kids when we came calling on October 31st.
It was an easy sell. One neighbor down, nine to go.
The lady at the next house looked to be in her 80s. I quickly gave her my song and dance: I’m American, Halloween holiday, kids, candy, October 31st? I could see she wasn’t buying it as she shook her head in disbelief. She didn’t know this holiday. And she wasn’t interested in learning about it now.
The next neighbor was equally skeptical. It didn’t help that she had to come hopping out on crutches to talk to me.
In the end, I managed to get a total of nine neighbors on board with my fake Halloween candy circuit. I was emotionally exhausted. At least the cold calling I did in college didn’t demand face-to-face confrontations.
After additional candy purchases and some hasty costume-sewing, Halloween night arrived. We, a group of eight witches, skeletons, princesses and a slightly anxious mom, set out. The first stop was at the friendly neighbor.
“Oh, it’s you!” he said, after opening the door. He ducked out of sight, reappeared with a bag of candy, and unceremoniously threw the whole thing into my daughter’s trick-or-treat bag.
“No,” I said, trying to sound like this was a perfectly reasonable mistake to make. “You have to put one piece of candy into each bag.”
You dope, I thought but didn’t say.
His wife was standing by, laughing. She understood perfectly well how it worked and was enjoying the spectacle of her oafish husband.
He sighed, retrieved the candy from my daughter’s bag, and doled it out individually.
The remaining stops went smoothly; it had all gone precisely as planned. It gave me a warm glow to see that my kids were experiencing Halloween pretty much as I had as a kid. The embarrassment of talking to quirky neighbors paid off in the end. We had successfully established our own personal Halloween tradition which we went on to repeat until my kids grew out of it.
Years later, having lunch with my daughters, the topic of Halloween came up. Oh yes, I rigged the entire operation, I said, taking another bite of my cheese sandwich.
They exchanged glances.
“You did what? What do you mean, rigged?” asked my older daughter.
Well, I said, I scoped out the neighborhood in advance and left candy with whatever neighbors were available and willing to participate in my scheme. Then on Halloween, we only stopped at those houses.
They fell silent, contemplating how all those years, they had never uncovered the candy conspiracy.
Life is too short to not be crazy when you can get away with it. Maybe someday they’ll have kids, too. I look forward to seeing what nutty things they’ll come up with to enrich their children’s lives—and their own.