I imagine a great many people know at least one person who can be a bit ‘bah humbug’ about Christmas. Often there are very good reasons for this: health problems, financial pressures, loneliness or bereavement can all make Christmas a difficult time of year. In my case, while I’m fortunate to enjoy Christmas with my family, when it comes to Halloween I can ‘humbug’ with the best of them.
My family, as Christians, don’t celebrate Halloween. I was born on All Saints’ Day right after Halloween and my mum’s birthday is the day after bonfire night, so with three celebrations in the space of a week it really didn’t bother me that we didn’t go trick-or-treating. Halloween was never big in the UK when I was a child and the handful of trick-or-treaters that would call on us each year were too few and far between to ever really bother me.
That is, until the year of my eighth birthday:
We had just returned from the supermarket that evening to find a three unknown boys (not even wearing costumes) blocking our front path. They chanted ‘trick or treat’ and my parents politely informed them that we had nothing to give them. They called my dad a liar, pointing out the crisps and biscuits in one of the shopping bags and I informed them (rather less politely than my parents had) that those treats were for my birthday, which was clearly more important than Halloween and so they couldn’t have them.
As soon as my shopping-laden parents disappeared inside the house, one of the strange boys snatched the bag of treats out of the open car boot and tried to run off with it. My quick-acting older brother wrestled the bag away and my birthday was saved but I was outraged in the melodramatic way that only a not-quite-eight-year-old can be, that my birthday celebrations had been so very nearly ruined.
Other than that incident however, trick-or-treaters were typically very friendly, and would wish us a good evening even though we had nothing for them. We never had any trouble in retaliation for the fact that we rarely answered the door on Halloween, so as long as trick-or-treaters were polite, I never minded the interruption.
That is, until the year I became bedridden:
The trouble with being bedridden is you cannot answer the door no matter how much you might want to. I had never realised how terrifying Halloween can be for elderly or disabled people until the first year I was alone and bedridden. Listening to a succession of strangers, mostly older teenagers, hammer on my door, rattle the handle like they were trying to get in or yell through the letter box that they knew I was home as they could see my lights on, left me feeling under siege in what should have been the safety of my own home.
After every caller I would lie in terrified silence, jumping at every tiny sound not knowing if they’d gone away. Had they actually followed through on their occasional threats to throw eggs at my windows or shove fireworks through the letter box, there’d have been nothing whatsoever I could do. Several times I came close to calling the police but didn’t want to waste their time if the threats were empty and it really was intended to be ‘just bit of fun’.
Even when I was well enough to sit in the living room but still too disabled to answer the door, I would dread Halloween, hiding away in my bedroom at the back of the house, with the rest of the rooms in darkness in hope that if I stayed invisible and quiet, no one would call at my house.
Halloween is immensely popular in the area I live in, but in recent years a darker side seems to be emerging. When the police offered signs for elderly and disabled people to put up in their windows asking trick-or-treaters not to call, those houses became prime targets for pranksters and vandals. With no regard for the personal circumstances of the households they are visiting some of the parents of trick-or-treaters now seem to think it obligatory for strangers to have something to give to their children. (I often wonder what those parents would do if I approached the same child in the street the day after Halloween and offered them a slice of my birthday cake.) I’ve heard several stories from friends about verbal-abusive they’ve received from trick-or-treaters and a few years ago I had a similar encounter of my own.
I was waiting in the car en route to a rare meal out for my birthday while my mum and brother popped into a relative’s house on an errand. A gaggle of trick-or-treaters came chattering down the street and the mums stopped on the pavement while the kids headed up the driveway to knock on the door.
“I’m sorry sweeties,” my mum said to the three tiny skeletons that stood shivering on the doorstep, “I’m afraid I’ve nothing to give you.”
Thankfully she closed the door too quickly to hear the expletives erupting from the women on the pavement about the ‘mean old cow’ who’d denied treats to their children. Offended, ill and in pain I ungraciously replied that having made the five hour drive from London that afternoon to see her chronically ill daughter, remembering to buy sweets for strangers’ children probably hadn’t been high on her list of priorities.
I don’t think they heard what I said but they clearly realised someone had spoken and as they looked around for the source of the disembodied voice, one of them noticed my brother had left the sliding side-door on our car ever so slightly open.
“Stupid b**** has left her car unlocked,” one said, walking down the driveway, “we should have a look inside and see if there’s anything worth nicking.”
It was after dark and the car was unlit but it hadn’t previously occurred to me that they wouldn’t have seen me sitting there so I flicked on the internal light to let them know the car was occupied. Judging by the shriek the woman gave however, as she scooped up her child and raced down the driveway she must still not have seen me, thinking that the car lights had come on of their own accord in response to her comment. She didn’t slow down until she reached the next house, and though I hadn’t intended to scare her, I couldn’t help taking a little guilty pleasure in the thought that she got more of a Halloween fright than she had bargained for in return for her incivility.
So if you or anyone you know will be going out trick-or-treating remember, there are a lot of religious, cultural and financial reasons why someone may not have anything for you this year, but however stingy it may seem to you, please still wish them a good evening anyway. And if you should come to a house where the lights are out, there’s a ‘no thank you’ sign on the door or no one answers on the first knock, please, for the sake of vulnerable people, just move along quickly and try your luck elsewhere.
And ‘Bah Humbugs’ aside, here’s wishing a safe and happy Halloween to all of you.