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Column: Carrying on Halloween tradition

by Canda HarbaughWestern News
| October 29, 2009 12:00 AM

When I was a kid, Halloween rivaled Christmas as the best holiday of the year. Sure, there were no presents, but parading around school in a pointy witch hat (thanks Kmart) and black ensemble (compliments of St. Vincent de Paul and a handful of safety pins) and spending the evening hitting up as many houses as possible for candy treasures was something I looked forward to for weeks – if not, months.

Candy was so valuable that my older brother and sister and I used it as currency practically all year, watching our concealed stash whittle down to nothing over the course of months. Peanut butter cups and assorted nuggets of chocolate held significantly higher value than black licorice, Smarties and the occasional dreaded apple.

Admittedly, it didn’t occur to me how much easier it would be to purchase candy at the store, but that was long before jobs and income and unregulated candy consumption.

My relationship with Halloween evolved when I grew older and vowed not to turn out like the 30-year-old man in a coconut bra and plastic grass skirt who showed up at my family’s door one year requesting confections long after all the pre-adolescent trick-or-treaters like myself were safe at home.

I graduated to Halloween parties, the innocent kind where the punch wasn’t spiked and costumes didn’t come from an adult store. We told ghost stories, watched what we considered scary movies and sat in the dark while passing around severed fingers (hot dogs), eyeballs (peeled grapes) and brains (spaghetti).

Halloween and I entered another transition when I headed off to college. An excuse to wear revealing clothing and get hammered at a house party, it could no longer be recognized as a children’s holiday. Once I was out of the restricting dorms and into my own place – in a neighborhood too shady to host trick-or-treaters – I threw my own Halloween party, free of ghost stories or peeled grape eyeballs.

While in Los Angeles last year, Halloween was toned down considerably. I accompanied a friend taking her little sister and cousins door-to-door in their Whittier neighborhood. As we strolled down the block, stopping at houses with the porch light on, the warmth of the night caught me off-guard. One of the trick-or-treaters wore flip-flops and a halter top.

I thought of growing up in Miles City, where costumes had to accommodate gloves, hat and snowsuit. One parent dispensed candy at the house while the other crept down the block in the heated car, stalking me and my siblings until we jumped inside to warm up or to head to another neighborhood.

This year I look forward to my new role in the Halloween tradition. On Saturday, for the first time, I will be the one to dole out the candy, compliment unique costumes (which, of course, are a reflection of their mothers’ creativity and resourcefulness), and complain to no one in particular about the kids that are too old to be trick-or-treating.

I will remember the excitement of ringing the doorbell of a stranger on Halloween night, clutching my jack-o-lantern candy bucket, and I will know better than to hand out apples or black licorice.

(Canda Harbaugh is a reporter for The Western News. She can be reached at )