Andrew Vine: Halloween ritual that truly leaves me shuddering

I SHALL most likely lock the front door, turn off all the lights and pretend not to be in, to discourage potential callers on Friday evening.

Alternatively, I might visit relatives who live at the end of a long driveway with a pair of high gates that can be firmly shut to keep the world out.

Failing that, I’ll go and hide in the shed.

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Whatever it takes, I’m absolutely determined to escape the most wearisome and annoying ritual of the entire year – the trick-or-treating that has turned Halloween into a curse.

I’ve seen Halloween referred to as “the Japanese knotweed of festivals” and there’s much truth in that.

Like that most invasive of plants, it grows relentlessly and is virtually impossible to control.

Of all the cultural claptrap imported from the United States to take root in our national life, trick-or-treating is the most cynically exploitative, because it is targeted at children.

Last year I was up and down like a jack-in-the-box to answer the knocking at the door, which was impossible to ignore since I was expecting company.

There were at least a dozen groups of them over the course of the evening, pint-sized Draculas, Frankenstein’s monsters and witches, some egged on by parents smiling inanely as their little darlings interrupted people’s evenings, squealing “Trick or treat.”

One problem is that the grinning parents hadn’t briefed the junior ghouls how to respond to a polite “I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I haven’t anything to give you.”

This pseudo-tradition demands that the empty-handed householder is the subject of mischief, and of course most children wouldn’t dream of doing any such thing. But not being given any sweets leaves the children feeling awkward and disappointed, and casts the householder who simply doesn’t want to take part in the ritual as an old curmudgeon in their eyes.

Besides which, I surely can’t be alone in feeling intensely uncomfortable about an exercise that encourages children to ask for sweets from strangers. It runs counter to everything we drill into children at home and school alike from their earliest years, that they should never, ever take sweets from a stranger and be wary of adults they do not know.

Yet here are families sending them out to pester strangers for sweets. And accompanying parents were far from the norm with last Halloween’s crop of trick-or-treaters. At getting on for 9pm on a pitch-black evening, groups of children no older than seven or eight with no adults in attendance were still knocking on the doors of people they did not know.

The Halloween industry has made shuddering part of all the jokey fun. But unaccompanied children wandering the streets at night makes me shudder for real.

It is, of course, in no way the fault of the children that Halloween has become such a nuisance. They have been targeted and manipulated by hard selling into putting pressure on their parents to take part, whether families like the idea or not.

We were mercifully free of trick-or-treating until the 1980s, when, alive to the commercial possibilities of selling everything from pumpkins to plastic witches’ hats, shops started ramping up Halloween into the biggest merchandising opportunity of the year apart from Christmas.

And although the children who traipse the streets in elaborate costumes bought from the supermarket are well-behaved, there’s a very dubious morality behind the supposed fun of trick-or-treating.

At heart, it is “give us something, or we’ll do you harm”. That’s not a good message for children to absorb, and was one of the reasons for the unease expressed in some quarters when Halloween began its march towards being the commercial bonanza it is today.

But such unease was long ago trampled by the stampede to the checkouts with armfuls of tat and jars full of bat-shaped sweets.

The Halloween juggernaut is too powerful to stop altogether, but we can take a stand against trick-or-treating. Some communities have taken the sensible step of putting posters in the windows of homes willing to take part, where there are treats on hand for children who call. Everybody else is left in peace.

Even so, common sense surely dictates that it’s a very bad idea for children to be roaming the streets after dark. Parents might not be able to resist the clamour for Halloween, but they should take control of it.

If they feel the need to dress children up as werewolves and stuff them with so many sweets that they become hyperactive and won’t go to sleep until 3am, then for goodness sake do it at home.

Have their friends round, and turn it into a party. Switch the lights off and tell ghost stories, or cover everything in fake blood and plastic cobwebs. Do whatever it takes to have a wonderful time, but please leave people who are simply enjoying a quiet evening at home out of it.