Halloween’s Element of Surprise

Same ol’, same ol’… sigh…

Our grocer dedicates an entire aisle to Halloween this time of year.  It’s a pile-on of kid costumes, yard decor, plastic jack-o’-lanterns, and party supplies.  You’ll also find massive bags of assorted small candies, enough to load up your front door bowl with a single pour.  These treats are individually wrapped and brand-familiar to carefully conform to the holiday’s “safe standards”.  In other words, there’s no element of surprise in all that sugar.

When was the last time you were treated to a little something you didn’t expect?  Here’s a good example.  My wife and I traveled to Texas last weekend to visit our son.  As we settled into the hotel room we noticed a tray on the table with two bottles of water and a couple of wrapped candies.  Not so unusual.  But then we read the little card next to the tray.  Not only was the water free of charge (hotels typically stick it to you with bottled water) but the candies were handmade salted caramels from a local culinary kitchen.  Suddenly I’m thinking, “What a nice hotel!”

Perhaps you know a few other hotels with the same gesture, as Doubletree does with its chocolate-chip cookies (see Calories of Contentment for more on that).  But unlike our Texas hotel, Doubletree always goes with the chocolate-chip cookies.  Stay there enough and you come to expect them.  No surprise.

That, in a nutshell, is what’s wrong with Halloween today.  You still get the occasional trick (TP in the trees?  Shaving cream in the pumpkins?) but the “or-treat” routine has been reduced to just that – routine.  Think about a child’s anticipation for the big night.  Hours spent making sure their costume stands out in a crowd.  Miles spent covering sidewalks and front walks.  Fingers spent on doorbells and knockers, all so they can get, what… another fun-size Hershey bar?  Where-oh-where is the element of surprise?

Mom’s Halloween treats

Back in the “ol’ days” (because I’m feeling old today) a lot of front-door Halloween treats were homemade.  People handed out family-recipe popcorn balls and caramel apples.  My mother made the frosted ginger pumpkin cookies you see here.  A guy down the street dressed as Dracula and manned a little round grill in his driveway, handing out barbecued hot dog bites on toothpicks.  You never knew what you’d walk away with until you made it to the next house.

A mini pumpkin has zero HTV

Creative treats only boosted the night’s excitement back then.  I remember catching up with friends in the darkened streets to compare the collective efforts in our bags.  More importantly, the wide variety of treats upped the ante on what one candy-ranking opinion piece referred to as “HTV” or Halloween Trade Value.  After all, the most important event of the night was the post trick-or-treat trade, right?  You’d spill the contents of your pillowcase into a big pile on the floor and the back-n-forth would begin.  “I’ll give you three rolls of Smarties and a Baby Ruth for your Charleston Chew”.  Yes, friends, those were the days.

Everything changed when Halloween lost its young-and-innocent status.  Parents inspected treat bags to filter out anything remotely suspicious.  Homemade items only made it as far as the next-door neighbor’s kids or backyard Halloween parties.  Suddenly a treat didn’t pass muster if it wasn’t recognizable and wrapped.  The creative license of trick-or-treating has expired.

But hold on now.  What about the other 364 days of the year?  Can’t the element of surprise show up on one or more of those?  Can’t we still be caught off guard… in a good way?

Here’s an attempt.  At least two companies offer monthly treats by subscription and you have no idea what’s coming.  SnackCrate describes its product as “a world of snack surprises – monthly”.  TryTreats advertises “each month’s box will feature snacks from a different country in the world.  The country you’ll receive is a secret until you receive the box!”  Kind of a spin on my ol’-days Halloween nights, don’t you think?

Speaking of treats I think the dog got wind of this topic.  The other night I prepped his dinner with the usual two cups of kibble topped with a few bits of lunch meat.  He ate the bits but left the kibble.  He’s never done that before.  Maybe he’s bored with it?  I need to shake things up.  Throw in a few doggie treats.  Add the ol’ Halloween element of surprise and get his tail wagging again.

Author: Dave

Three hundred posts would suggest I have something to say… This blog was born from a desire to elevate the English language, highlighting eloquent words from days gone by. The stories I share are snippets of life itself, and each comes with a bonus: a dusted-off word I hope you’ll go on to use more often. Read “Deutschland-ish Improvements” to learn about my backyard European wish list. Try “Slush Fun” for the throwback years of the 7-Eleven convenience store. Or drink in "Iced Coffee" to discover the plight of the rural French cafe. On the lighter side, read "Late Night Racquet Sports" for my adventures with our latest moth invasion. As Walt Whitman said, “That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” Here then, my verse. Welcome to "Life In A Word".

8 thoughts on “Halloween’s Element of Surprise”

  1. See dogs are smarter than you think, and obviously mind-readers too! Those empty the pillowcase on the floor trading days are such fond memories. Growing up in the country you knew all your neighbours, so we got tons of good stuff – popcorn balls, homemade fudge etc. I made and wrapped homemade Rice Krispy squares for the neighbours 3 little girls who helped me with Halloween one year, and the youngest said, they were allowed to eat them because “my dad knows you won’t poison us.” Such innocent times back then. I don’t do Halloween anymore, and when I did last I bought Doritos Nachos chips, as they seemed to be a big hit, along with a chocolate bar. Those (often stale) chocolate bars keep getting smaller and smaller until they will eventually just disappear.

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  2. Your treat examples made me realize there was a time when Hershey bars (or other candy bars) actually were a surprise treat. You just didn’t get them very often among the popcorn, fruit, and homemade items. And such a telling statement by the little girl next store. Times have changed in a big way.

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  3. I always loved Halloween as a kid, but we stopped handing out candy several years ago. I got tired of buying candy and not having anybody show up at the door. We had to eat all that candy ourselves!!

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  4. So true. Today’s trick-or-treaters don’t have the perspective of Halloweens from generations past and they’re at an age where “variety” doesn’t matter, so at least in their eyes it’s still a great experience.


  5. I’m still smiling about your dog and how he didn’t eat the kibble. He must really want to move on from that particular kibble. I had a friend who would give her dog some leftover dinner food. The dog would eat everything, except the carrots. The dog would spit out the carrots on the floor. Obviously did not like carrots.

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  6. The occasional popcorn ball wasn’t bad, but I hated getting an apple or orange – we could have those anytime. And I remember around 1969 or so was when the rumor went around that people were tampering with treats. “Look for needle holes – people are putting drugs in there, and don’t eat the homemade stuff.” I have concluded that the rumor was started by Hershey and Mars to get rid of the inexpensive homemade competition.

    I miss the wide range of candy. Turkish Taffy, Clark Bars, Oh Henry, I think some are still made but they’re not widely distributed. I know because I levied the Dad Tax when my kids were still in the trick or treat business. All for their education, of course.

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  7. Yep, I believe the “Tylenol scare” played into it too. In hindsight you have to wonder if the fear was manufactured. Back then, I was willing to believe the newspaper headlines. These days not so much.


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