Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor
Halloween is a holiday based on generosity, but that spirit is not completely selfless. Born of ancient beliefs that on a certain night, the door between the world of the living and the world of the dead opened, people thought it in their best interest to feed whomever. . . or whatever. . . stopped by. It was just safer that way. In America, that spiritual caution shifted into practical defense when very aggressive traditions of pranking developed, particularly in the Mid-West. The treat quite literally deferred the trick.
So while one might justifiably be shamed by others for not appreciating, say, a Christmas gift or a birthday present, I believe the origins of Halloween allow children to be judgmental. Young people should rightly ask if the candy adequately forestalled their holiday chaos.
Some of the work in creating a stratified system of judging treats has already been done for us. Popular culture has already defined the worst possible Halloween treat. In the justifiably legendary It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966), our sad sack hero gets a rock. I know of no real life Charlie Browns who got a rock no matter how bad their costumes were. Anyway, where I grew up, a rock would in all likelihood have been thrown back through a window. Nobody was going to give out rocks in the Cape.
Just above that threshold, the worst kind of Halloween treat is the treat that attempts to circumvent the spirit of the holiday. I’m sorry, dentists. Kids get that their oral hygiene is your job. But nobody wants a toothbrush, thanks anyway.
Similarly, no one wants a Jack Chick cartoon or pamphlet about how your religion views Halloween as evil. If you don’t want to play, close your door and turn your lights off. It’s Samhain time.
The next level up from that is the treat that has nothing to do with the holiday at all. For a few years, I received tickets for free dry cleaning from a local home. The neighbors a few doors down owned a nearby dry cleaning business. My mother was quite happy to take those tickets in case we ever needed something dry cleaned, but they were useless to me.
Above that, there are the treats that did not survive maternal scrutiny. Halloween giving traditions radically shifted across my childhood when a series of stories about tampered treats began to circulate. Apples were potentially full of pins or razor blades. Unwrapped items might have been dosed. Cookies were only acceptable if you remembered the home where you got them. It’s not a treat if a kid has to run a full background check on the giver.
At about this level I would also place money. The same dry cleaning family mentioned above shifted over to bags of pennies a couple of years later. They probably did this as a cost cutting measure, but I didn’t mind. I could at least use cash to buy candy at the drugstore later.
Finally, we reach the level of treats where objections are a matter of individual taste. I never cared for Mounds or Almond Joys, but maybe you did. I loved a Nestle’s Crunch or Snickers bar, but maybe you didn’t. I have no desire to argue with someone. But coconut in a candy bar? Yuck! Anyway, this is where the true joy of Halloween may be found in unbridled gluttony and savvy trading.