Tomorrow evening, as I’ve done on this date for the last two years, I’ll put this sign on the front door:
If you’ve come in a scary costume, please ring the bell.
Otherwise, try again next year!
It worked last year and the year before.
In the preceding years, half a dozen kids, ten-year-olds on average, usually in pairs, would present themselves at the front door and cry ‘trick or treat!’.
When it comes to American cultural imperialism, I’m as indignant as the next red-blooded Australian. But I have very fond memories of this particular Halloween ritual, from some childhood years spent in the U.S. (spot me in the picture). So, when the crunch came, I couldn’t bring myself to be a complete wet blanket: on those problematic occasions, I would scrounge up an assortment of treats — from lolly bags confiscated after parties, from chocolate boxes brought by dinner guests of bygone years, and maybe throw in a ginger-nut biscuit to give it an Aussie touch — and distribute them in brown-paper sandwich bags.
But I always seethed with resentment. It wasn’t right. The essence of trick-or-treat is the scary costumes, and these local urchins weren’t playing the game, either through ignorance or laziness. In any case most of them were too old.
I can’t bring myself to tell this to their cute little faces, so my sign is a good solution. It saves embarrassment on both sides and establishes that, far from being a Halloween grinch, I’m a heroic defender of standards and traditions. If the effect is to squash trick-or-treating down under, that’s the ideal outcome; if it forces the current crop of globalised, wired-in children to do the thing properly, I’ll settle for that.