As I look back on my Leaside childhood, it seems to me that, other than Christmas and the last day of school before summer, Halloween was the day we looked forward to the most. Our parents would spend the rest of the year doing their level best to keep candy, chocolate, chips, and anything loaded with sugar, out of the house, out of our hands, and most importantly, out of our mouths. But for one brief shining moment, or in this case, one brief shining day, the infamous candy moratorium was lifted. I remember my twin brother Tim and I had trouble figuring out just exactly what was happening. No candy or chocolate bars in our home except for October 31st when it was okay to bring home a bathtub full of sugary treats. It made no sense. It was as if every Halloween, our parents were abducted and replaced with exact replicas who thought candy wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
I’ve often wondered if the idea of dressing up in a costume, going door to door after dark, and carting home more candy and chocolate than we’d ever seen in our lives, was the brainchild of a group of enterprising dentists. A brilliant business model, don’t you think? There’s no point in spending money on patient recruitment, marketing, and advertising when once a year an entire cohort of children, from toddlers to teenagers, consumes enough of the evil sweet crystals to keep dental offices so busy they require crowd control.
And make no mistake, back in the late 60s and early 70s, Halloween was a big night in Leaside. Scores of kids would line up at our door, show off their costumes, and then slip back into the night with their already overflowing candy bag just a little bit heavier. Rinse and repeat, house after house, block after block. ’Twas ever thus. But there have been a few changes since I last dressed up and trick-or-treated my way around our neighbourhood.
Have you noticed the lengths to which some homeowners go to create a scary, haunted, horror-full display on their front lawns? Retailers have clearly decided not to yield the entire Halloween market to the dentists. In my day, you might see a plastic skeleton or a make-shift witch adorning the front porch of a few houses. But today, you’re just as likely to encounter realistic-looking body parts emerging from the ground, recorded screams, dry ice machines, and an impressive display of crumbling tombstones. You might even see a few frightening “inflatables” as that, perhaps regrettable, craze crosses over seasonal lines from Christmas.
But just as homeowners have really stepped up their game on the home décor front, I’ve noticed that fewer and fewer kids seem to be haunting our door. (And it’s not because we give out lame treats like fruit and cheese. We’re all-in with the KitKats, Aero bites, and Coffee Crisps.) I’m not sure why our neighbourhood numbers are down. Perhaps the ubiquity of smartphones and the hours of entertainment they offer have turned kids off the effort of walking around the neighbourhood collecting candy. Perhaps the aforementioned over-the-top front lawn horror displays have worked a little too well and scared away the audience they were trying to entertain. Who knows? But some things never change. At the very young end of the Halloween demographic spectrum, parents are still leading – and sometimes carrying – their toddlers to a few houses early in the evening where neighbours coo over them (the kids not the parents). It remains a rite of passage for young families.
The upshot of having fewer kids trooping up to our front door is not completely undesirable. You see, that big bowl of mini-chocolate bars stays on our front hall table for several weeks as I do my part and force a couple down each time I enter or leave the house. I seem to come and go a lot in the immediate Halloween aftermath. It also makes my dentist happy.
Stephen Leacock winner Terry Fallis’s ninth novel, A New Season, is now in bookstores.