Trick or Treating: How Old is Too Old?


Halloween is upon us. Time to load up on little Butterfingers and remove the bulb from the porch light.

Okay, it’s not my favorite holiday. Why? Simple. I’ve outgrown it. I hung up my Dracula’s cape at age 12 and never looked back. Yes, there are parties at the bars and the whole thing has been co-opted by the Day of the Dead crowd, but if I need to wear an outlandish costume and get hammered, I’ll go to a Griz game.

Halloween has always been a kids’ holiday because it revolves around collecting and consuming obscene amounts of candy that would be strictly forbidden every other day of the year. Halloween night, most kids bring home a sack laden with enough sweet morsels to keep the entire population of Sweden on a sugar buzz for a month. And that’s just the fish.

Trick or Treat

I am your new robot overlord. Now make with the candy.

When you’re a kid, you worship at the altar of candy. It’s your reward. It’s your motivation. It’s your happy place, your ultimate goal, your reason for living. So, other than Christmas, when your parents try to wipe the guilt from their own psychological slate by going in debt to fulfill your entire wish list, Halloween is the best day of the year.

As parents, our job is to introduce the importance of the Halloween costume. Toddlers could give two high chair farts about their costumes. Even before they can speak, they know it’s about the candy. For most kids raised outside of religious or nutritional fringe cultures, the first thing they do after learning to walk is learning to walk while holding open a trick-or-treat bag.

Costumes begin to take on more importance when kids hit school age. For those first few years of elementary school, that wide-open fantasy world is within easy reach of their grubby little fingers. In your kindergartner’s glucose-soaked brain, she’s not “dressing up” like a bunny fairy princess. She IS a bunny fairy princess. Professional actors could learn a lot from the commitment level of a tot in a costume.

Halloween. Photo by Carol Blodgett

How old is too old? It depends…in human or doggy years?

Then, when they get to fourth or fifth grade, kids find themselves standing on the precipice of middle childhood, when they are allowed to start making some of their own decisions about what to wear on Halloween. This is usually when the boys’ costumes start to require some kind of weaponry or power source, and girls’ costumes become super elaborate and may require a hot glue gun or a Betsy Ross level of sewing expertise.

During this stage of trick-or-treathood, the kids are still accompanied by their parents when they make the rounds, but the parents have been relegated to the sidewalk instead of the front porch with the kids. They trust that their fifth grader will no longer walk straight into a house the second the door opens, or start shrieking when a friendly Labrador starts licking the Kool-Aid stains off his face.

Then, just when the parents have been trained to call out “What do you say?” every time they hear the candy hit the bag, the kids enter the Thunder Dome known as middle-school. Adolescence has reared its pimply head. Like young, sugar-addicted coyotes, our children assume a pack mentality. They want to trick-or-treat with their friends. Mom and Dad can stay home and give out candy or pay bills or whatever it is we do. Of course, they still need one parent to drive them around, especially when word gets out that some obstetrician in Grant Creek is giving out movie theater-sized boxes of Jujubes.

Halloween. Photo by Carol Blodgett

Costumes? Who needs costumes?

As they move into double-digit age, kids begin to get hip to another reality: the concept of “no costume, no candy.” By now, they’ve become more sophisticated and their fantasies involve fewer superheroes or Disney characters, and more iPhones and video game consoles. But their old friend candy is still there, fueling their actions and wrecking their teeth.

(Note to kids: don’t bother denying you’ve been eating candy during the day. Not to the person who does the laundry.)

So as they enter puberty, their bodies begin to change but their candy jones is as strong as ever. The costumes become more half-assed, more phoned-in. For generations, including mine, this usually involved black shoe polish on the face and ratty clothes pilfered from the Goodwill pile.

Halloween. Photo by Carol Blodgett

Trick or Treat? Can you say Awkward?……

“Hi, Mrs. Cavendish,” says the eighth-grader, his voice yodeling back and forth between three octaves. “I’m a hobo.” Mrs. Cavendish, skeptical, nevertheless drops a couple of Fun Size bars into said hobo’s mother’s 800-thread-count Egyptian cotton pillowcase.

Sugar makes kids do weird things. Trick-or-treating past the socially acceptable age is one of them. When you see kids driving from house to house, they are too old. If you see a pregnant girl passing herself off as a jack-o-lantern, she’s too old. If a kid shows up at your door dressed as a Taco Bell employee, he’s too old. Plus he’s late for work.

As a parent whose children have officially retired from the trick-or-treat league, I can’t help but feel a jolt of nostalgia when I see the joy in the faces of the little ones who come to our door Halloween night. Grinning ear to ear, their eyes are wide with the realization that this is all you have to do to score a parentally-approved sack of beautiful, glorious, delicious candy. What a world.

So parents, enjoy it while you can. And let your kids enjoy the innocence and frivolity of trick-or-treating. It won’t be long before they move into the darker, more intricate social nuances of Halloween night and this complicated business of holiday candy collection. As they get closer to the end of their trick-or-treating career, most kids will come to understand this whole oddball tradition for what it is.

Adulthood’s just around the corner, and the trick’s on them.

   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blog archive.


Have an off-white Christmas with Bob Wire.Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an open mind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers. Follow @Bob_Wire on Twitter.


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