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Jim Heffernan column: When early autumn walks the land

Trick or treat, soap or eats — hey, what happened to that?

Jim Heffernan
Jim Heffernan
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Ah, October. Halloween season — a great time of the year.

Yeah, I know most people would choose Christmas holiday season as their favorite. Go ahead, if that’s your choice. But for me, the crackling leaves of early autumn, the cooler weather, the resumption of school and many activities that lie dormant in summer, are as welcome as the flowers in May were a mere six months ago.

And then there’s Halloween, just 30 days away. Wonderful Halloween. Trick or treat, soap or eats — hey, what happened to that? Trick or treat’s still around but what happened to soaping the windows of homes where residents refused to give out candy?

From haunted houses to scary movies to family-friendly frights, there are dozens of ways to get into the spirit of the season.

Seems like everything’s going down hill. You never hear about it anymore. Back in my trick-or-treat days, quite some time ago, that was what we said when we rang the doorbells and people answered: “Trick or treat, soap or eats,” we’d threaten. Of course most people gave out eats, but those who didn’t even answer their doors were in danger of having their windows soaped.

We — my friends and I — tried it only once on a grumpy neighbor whose house was dark on Halloween night, the doorbell never answered. So we tried to soap a few windows — regular bar soap purloined from kitchens and bathrooms of our homes.

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We discovered that soaping windows isn’t that easy. Just a few white marks on the windows but to really do mischief it would take you all night, and we had promises to keep, and candy to eat before we could sleep. So forget soaping.

Halloween has so many wonderful traditions and symbols. Scary ghosts, ghouls, goblins, carved pumpkins, fearsome monsters like Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolf Man, Giuliani.

You can say what you want about Frankenstein, but he was a man of parts. I must admit, though, I don’t know much about ghouls and goblins. You hear a lot about them this time of the year, but I’ve never really understood what a goblin is. I always knew I was supposed to fear them, but who are they really?

Google, a goblin who knows everything, says goblins are grotesque, monstrous creatures first showing up in Europe in the Middle Ages. You remember the middle ages, don’t you? They showed up right after the Dark Ages and before the Renaissance, after which I did my trick or treating. Goblins range from mischievous household spirits to malicious vestal thieves, it is said. “Vestal”? I always thought virgins were vestal. Live and learn.

But enough about ghouls and goblins and ghosts, oh my.

All this folderol is over what is actually “All Saints Eve,” the night before “All Saints Day” when Christians commemorate all the saints of the church, both known and unknown, who have attained heaven.

I did not know all this without conducting deep research like respected academicians undertake. These “facts” are according to a website attributed to Encyclopedia Britannica. The roster of heaven-dwelling saints does not include the New Orleans Saints, but might consider the St. Scholastica Saints if they behave.

So as you send he kiddies out the door on Oct. 31, bags, plastic pumpkins in hand (don’t bring soap), take solace in knowing you are starting the ball rolling on commemorating all those saints who have preserved us for the past millennium or two, give or take an age, era or epoch.

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Time marches on.

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Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and columnist. He maintains a blog at jimheffernan.org and can be reached by email at jimheffernan@jimheffernan.org.
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