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Zak of All Trades: Trick or treat? You be the judge

November 1, 2013

If you left your porch light on Thursday night — and you don't live in the sticks, where I grew up — you more than likely heard the phrase more times than you cared to count: "Trick or treat."

My favorite thing about Halloween, of course, is checking out all of the fun and creative costumes donned by those from young to old. It's an escape and a chance to be someone or something you've always wanted to be.

Always dreamt of being a doctor? There's a costume for that.

Always wondered what it would be like to be in the shoes of LeBron James or Andrew McCutchen? Have we got the costume for you!

Always pondered how pretty you'd be as your favorite Disney princess? Boy or girl, here's your chance!

I know. It's starting to sound like a commercial here, but honestly, the best part of Halloween for me has always been checking out the creative ideas that others come up with to present themselves as someone or something else to the world for a day.

We were blessed with two invited trick-or-treaters in the office to break up our busy Thursday schedule this week.

First, a werewolf gave us his best howl, and then, Strawberry Shortcake paraded through the office, showing off her costume.

I saw dozens of other pictures of young and old decked to the nines, and each and every one brought a smile to my face.

But all of those costumes got me thinking about the phrase so often muttered by trick-or-treaters.

Growing up, my most common outfit was a homemade clown costume — my brother and my cousin each had one, too — and I wore it over a period of a few years. I had other costumes too, but those sticky plastic masks never were my thing, so, often, I returned to the clown as the reasonable choice.

Door to door I went, tapping on those doors where the lights were on or where we knew the residents. I lived in the country, and that's not ideal for trick-or-treating, so we often patrolled the streets of Reynoldsville, where my grandparents lived, shouting the expression we all know so well.

*Knock, knock, knock*

(Door opens)

"Trick or treat!"

*Candy falls into bucket*

"Thank you!"

Back then, it all made sense. That was before my analytic mind took over.
For me, the phrase "trick or treat" was exactly what I listed above. It was an exclamation. It was my way of shouting out "I'm here and I'm dressed up for you to see!" The pleasantry that came with it was the candy.

I saw trick-or-treating as a sort of two-sided transaction. I dress up; you reward me for doing so by giving me candy.

Hey, professional athletes get paid to do something they love; why can't I get paid (in sweets) for dressing up?

But as one who spent a lot of time in post-secondary education, I've learned to look back on the why and the how of the things that we do, and the Halloween one leaves me a bit puzzled still.

There are some interesting origins and some creepy ones too — makes sense, right? I mean, it's Halloween — but as best as I can tell, "trick or treat" wasn't meant to be an exclamation at all. It was meant to be a question.

"Trick or treat?"

Perhaps it was a genuine question: "Good evening sir and ma'm. Would you like to see me perform a trick or would you like to give me a treat? Or, perhaps, would you prefer to reward my card trick with a treat?"

But then, of course, there's the ultimatum-based question: "Listen up. Would you like to give me a treat to reward my awesome costume? Or, would you like me to pull a trick on you? I've got a basket full of toilet paper hidden in the bushes. What's it gonna be?"

I tend to prefer that this was the true origin, but then, I'm just making up history as I go.

Like I said, there's a whole lot to be learned from the holiday's origins — and there's a lot to be said for why some parents choose not to allow their kids to participate, too.

Truth is, though, American Halloween is exactly what we see on the surface. It's a chance to pour out some love on the kids in our neighborhood.

From the Halloween Fest event held in the park last weekend to Thursday night's parade, that's exactly what this community did and did so well.
And in all honesty, we're better for it, too.

Maybe knowing that the trick-or-treaters were coming to our doors reminded us of a costume we wore when we were kids.

Maybe it motivated us to dress up to show them our Halloween spirit, too.
Or maybe it just got us to thinking of how many people poured out their hearts (and their candy!) in our lives when we were kids and made us want to return the favor.

Working in the office and doing so during evening hours, I missed the parade, and I missed trick-or-treat both in town and at my home.

But getting to see the pictures and see some of the kids enjoying their Halloween experience brought a ray of light into a dark day.

That's what Halloween's all about for me. Kids dress up. Some adults dress up. We all get to see who everyone else wants to be, and then, maybe, if we're lucky, we start thinking about who we really want to be when we take off the costumes, too.

Zak Lantz is the editor of The Spirit, and for Halloween, he went as a grumpy old man who forgot his costume at home.

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