Halloween … Trick or Treat?

Last year, in mid-October, I received an email from a reputable online retailer reminding me it was time to 'get ready for Halloween'. I've always loved the spookiness of this time of year but it concerned me to read that part of this preparedness should involve investing in a 'mace' spray with which to protect myself. Firstly, I knew this was not an actual 'mace spray' since both that and pepper spray used widely in some countries are both illegal in the UK but was still a little worried that the spray concerned deposited a bright red sticky goo at its target. Now, while I applaud any attempt to keep law-abiding members of the public safe at all times, it did occur to me that advertising this product along with monster masks, fancy dress costumes and lots of sugary treats was a trifle worrying. After all, who's to say that some particularly naughty little (or large) demon might not see the potential of using said spray to trick someone who refused them sweeties on the doorstep?

 The Christmas gingerbread house given a spooky twist. As if there aren't enough sugary treats around as it is …

 Let's not even think what applications the more nefarious amongst us might come up with …

And then I wondered when did I become so cynical? So 'Daily Mail' in my opinion of younger people? Well the truth is, I haven't. I know that the huge majority of young people are good, kind individuals who wouldn't knowingly harm anyone. The problem is, of course, that we just don't have a long heritage of trick-or-treating like our cousins in the USA.

Halloween, of course, does have its roots in European, and it particular British, ancient traditions. It may have come a long way since, but essentially it has been celebrated here for thousands of years.

When I was a little girl we always celebrated it - just as my mum had. My parents would carve out a swede inside which we'd put a little 'nightlight'. Don't forget I was born in the Dark Ages before big orange pumpkins had ever made it to these shores, or at least not to deepest Derbyshire, so a swede was the largest suitable vegetable you could get. We'd put it outside in the yard. Our Brownie pack, with others, always organised fancy dress parties too. But what we didn't have were the sweets. A typical Halloween feast was pretty much the same scrummy British rib-sticking fare as the Bonfire Night one a few days later - sausages, baked potatoes and that sort of thing.

So the modern idea of trick-or-treating still seems a bit alien to many Brits. And, of course, we come back to the understandable concerns of parents letting the kids knock on strangers' doors and of many old people who fear any knock on the door after dark. I know there are areas that organise local trick-or-treats, but I wonder whether we will ever truly be able to

replicate the North American experience. When I was 11 years old my family went to America for the first time. We happened to be in Los Angeles at Halloween. During the daytime we travelled around and I was amazed by the dozens of carved out jack-a-lanterns on every doorstep, on shop counters, in banks, restaurants and even outside police stations. Everyone was dressed for the occasion whether it be full-on witch dress or a pair of demon horns. It was utterly wonderful and exactly what I'd expected. But what I was not prepared for was the scene on Hollywood Boulevard after dark. Thousands of people strolled up and down the street. Most of them in full special-effect makeup with the kind of stunning costumes you'd expect from the home of the movie business. It was noisy, busy and, for the 11-year-old me at least, just a little intimidating at first. There were aliens, witches, Frankenstein's monsters, zombies, ghosts and ghouls everywhere you looked. In the restaurant there were little jack-a-lanterns on the table and for every child, myself included, there were lots of sugary treats in return for a shy 'trick or treat!'

It fired in me an even greater enthusiasm for all things Halloween. And over the years I have gathered a large collection of ornaments and novelties on my travels from witches and cauldrons from Massachusetts to ornate chocolate boxes and musical boxes from Europe. And while, with no children, I don't have kids to send out trick-or-treating, I always decorate a room with the collection and enjoy a bit, ok a lot, of Halloween candy and a proper pumpkin pie.

It might not be entirely traditional on either continent but it's fun … and the only mace I need is in the pumpkin pie!