Go trick-or-treating this Halloween, and help bring Britain back from the undead | Paul Westmoreland

Scrooge famously hated Christmas, so I shudder to think what he would’ve made of Halloween. Armies of children roaming the streets demanding sweets, all dressed as devils and vampires, mummies and witches, werewolves, skeletons and, dare I say it … ghosts. Not to mention the shocking amount of money people spend on costumes and decorations that fall apart in seconds and refuse to biodegrade.

But the moral of his story is the same as this one: while Scrooge hid indoors counting his farthings, he missed out on the good things in life. Sure, the cost of living crisis means we can all do without another splurge of wild consumerism, but if you can enter into the spirit of Halloween, even in a small way, I really think you should.

When I was a kid, Halloween was one of those things that was only a big deal for American families on TV. We had the odd trick-or-treater who refused to leave until we’d emptied the biscuit barrel, but that was all. Over the years, it’s steadily caught on in the UK – spending on the event has more than doubled since 2013, and it’s more and more common to see outlandish, house of horror displays and pumpkins lining doorsteps as the end of October looms.

It’s tempting to roll our eyes and dismiss Halloween as yet another US-imported spending spree on a par with Black Friday, but there’s more to it than sweets and decorations – as I found out when I had kids.

When my children first discovered Halloween, I wasn’t sure how trick-or-treaters would be received in our part of town – or whether it could even be dangerous. But as they got older they wore down my resolve, until one year I agreed to take them out, and my perception of Halloween changed for ever.

We trooped out and started knocking on doors, and after a few short exchanges with strangers, as my children rummaged in bowls of treats, I realised I was also taking away something rather sweet. It was the feeling that I live near a lot of very nice, friendly and kind people who, regardless of their backgrounds, had decided to spend their evening answering the door to strangers and handing out sweets.

The whole experience came as a revelation. I realised I’d been living under a misconception fuelled by fears of knocking on strangers’ doors, but the truth is it’s safer than I ever thought it was, and I’d been missing out on the chance to meet my neighbours.

Over the years, I’ve learned the rules – and there are rules – of successful trick-or-treating. The first is the most sacred. If a house doesn’t have so much as a pumpkin on display, it’s off limits, so there’s no need for anyone who doesn’t want any callers to worry. Anyone who doesn’t recognise this rule will soon realise they’re wasting their time, and that there’s more fun to be had by knocking on the doors of those who are playing along.

The next rule is that, even when you knock and ask “Trick or treat?” no one ever says “Trick!”. I discovered this the year my kids went out armed and ready to perform the electric cattle prod scene from Terror, the classic Halloween-themed episode of Bottom. They came home gutted no one asked for a trick, but their buckets of candy cushioned the blow.

Of all the traditions and cultural trends Britain has adopted, I think Halloween is easily one of the greatest community events we have. For me it beats jumble sales, school fetes, street parties and even football on a big screen. When our communities embrace it, Halloween also brings a whole bagful of benefits to local businesses.

Round our way there’s a Halloween trail offering pumpkins to kids who collect stamps from our local shops and cafes. It’s a bit of fun that’s designed to reacquaint people with the area and breathe life back into our high street before it joins the undead. Halloween is also a welcome boost for the pubs and nightclubs that had stakes driven through their hearts by the pandemic

It’s easy to forget, but this time last year taking part in Halloween meant taking a tentative step out of the houses we’d spent most of the year locked inside. So, this year, instead of saying, “Bah, humbug!” to Halloween, I say put on a zombie mask, get out into your community, knock on some doors and shout: “Trick or treat?”. Halloween isn’t there to scare anyone: it serves as an annual reminder that most of our neighbours are rather sweet people who are happy to open their doors to total strangers.

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