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Tue Jul 22 14:08:11 SAST 2014

Halloween could be teaching our kids bad tricks

Peter Delmar | 07 November, 2012 02:20
Peter Delmar
Image by: The Times

In my culture, we don't go around dressing weirdly and soliciting something for nothing from perfect strangers.

In my culture, Halloween is something we used to read about in Archie comic books.

It all looked very odd and a bit menacing and, because we didn't do it, we naturally assumed it was very un-South African.

Mind you, I'm so old that, I swear, as a kid I used to pronounce "pizza" the way it's spelt and couldn't quite fathom what those round, yellow flat pieces of stuff were that the American kids in the cartoons were so fond of eating.

In Plumstead we had frikkadels five nights a week and, because we were relatively indigent, until we kids were teenagers we had never been inside the kind of restaurant where you were served food grown-ups had made while you just sat down - at tables and chairs as opposed to sitting in Dad's Ford Cortina at the drive-in Chicken Licken.

In my children's culture, on the other hand, they religiously celebrate Halloween every year (not in the sense that we're bringing them up to be devil worshippers, but in the sense that, well, you know what I mean.)

In our house today, Halloween is as much a fixture in the younger Delmars' calendars as are Easter, Christmas and all those other holidays when middle-class kids get loot for doing nothing in particular. And because they're born-frees and live in a much more normal society than the one I grew up in, my offspring also know all about Diwali and Eid-al-Fitr.

In the little suburban idyll in which I am raising my children to become (hopefully) actuaries or chartered accountants, we have a residents' committee whose members volunteer great swathes of their time to improve the suburb.

They also believe that it's important to have a bit of fun once in a while, so they organise fantastic community events like movies in the park and charity potjiekos competitions.

These always go off swimmingly. Masses of people rock up, including the waifs and strays from suburbs like Melville and Greenside, which can't be arsed to arrange their own festivities; entertainment is provided and, usually, a few entrepreneurs make a buck running stalls and selling the essentials of life like coffee and boerewors rolls.

Local businesses realise that those attending are the punters who pay their bills and usually stump up a bit of sponsorship.

So, last week we had our neighbourhood Halloween get-together in the park. For a couple of hours the kids ran wild in a secure, happy community environment, and the grown-ups spent some quality time catching up with neighbours and friends.

As an adjunct to the knees-up in the park, I shepherded four little people all aged under 10 around the suburb trick or treating.

Many households had entered into the community spirit, happily doling out sweets to young passers-by. On the Highveld, in late October the days are getting longer and, if there isn't a thunderstorm about, the evenings are balmy.

There is no better time of the year for people to gather with kids running amok in the parks and to celebrate the fact that we have the world's best weather.

Now this is perhaps terribly curmudgeonly of me, but I have my misgivings about the whole trick or treating thing.

The now sadly defunct tradition of Christmas carolling involved begging for sweetmeats but in return for a service rendered - the singing of Christmas hymns.

Trick or treating, on the other hand, carries with it an implicit threat: that if you don't treat me I'm going to kick in your gate. Of course the masses of darling cherubs wearing witches' hats or bandaged up to the eyeballs with tomato-sauce splattered bandages and roaming the streets last Wednesday could hardly be mistaken for vengeful vandals. But, I just wonder, is Halloween sending our impressionable youngsters (and even more impressionable politicians) the right message?

We already live in a society where the rendering of services is too often accompanied with solicitations of kickbacks - with the implicit threat of some sort of comeback if the expected favour is not forthcoming.

My kids appreciate that Halloween is all a bit of fun and would never dream of defacing the property of someone who demurred about handing over a fistful of marshmallows or jelly beans (at least, I certainly hope so). But then they're more grown-up about most things than certain leading lights in our government and the tenderpreneurs they're treating.

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Tue Jul 22 14:08:11 SAST 2014 ::