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Why every parent should take their kid trick or treating, or why six was afraid of seven.

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Posted: Wednesday, October 31, 2012 11:51 am

Six-year-old me: Why was six afraid of seven?

Random adult holding a bowl of candy that I wanted: Why?

Six-year-old me: Because seven ate nine.

Happy Halloween to everyone! I hope you are taking your kiddos out trick or treating this evening or handing out some candy to eager sugar fiends.

Yesterday, Sara Jane Pohlman and I waxed poetic about the beauty of knocking on random doors asking for candy. In Missouri, I remember every Halloween putting on my costume, then trying to shove everything into some type of coat (because nine out of 10 Halloweens it was raining or under 40 degrees out). Then, with my typical pumpkin plastic pail, I would wave goodbye to my mom who stayed behind with a bowl of candy and headed out shuffling behind my dad.

As a strange regional variation, in St. Louis, trick or treaters must tell jokes before any candy is passed out. As in any. This is a pretty serious rule, and behind every door I knocked my little fist on, there was an adult waiting for a stand up routine. 

I assumed everyone did this on Halloween. It was only when I moved to Bakersfield about four years ago, that I realized this was not normal when kids looked at me suspiciously when I asked for their jokes. Last Halloween, I did an informal poll with my friend, Kim, a St. Louis native who now lives in Buffalo, New York, and we asked everyone we knew who was not from the Show-Me state if they ever told a joke on Halloween. You can imagine the results.

According to an article from NPR the tradition actually started in Des Moines, Iowa, "where it began as a Depression-era attempt to curb hooliganism, which included upending trash cans, turning on fire hydrants and shooting out streetlights."

Days before Halloween, I remember spending hours telling jokes to my parents, testing them out and trying to find ones that made adults legitimately laugh instead of the forced chuckle. The joke at the top might or might not of been my trick for at least two years. It was always a struggle for me.

But telling jokes and trick or treating taught me many valuable lessons that I worry are being lost as parents steer their kids toward more formal gatherings through churches or schools. While I understand many parents send their kids to these type of celebrations because they know it will be safe, I think there are many wonderful lessons to be learned from knocking on a stranger's door. I don't want this to get too bogged down, but here are a few reasons why kids need to trick or treat:

• Memories: First of all, there are the wonderful memories that stand out because trick or treating is a once a year, and admittedly kind of weird, activity. You are in a costume and out in your neighborhood sometimes hours after your normal curfew. You wonder how much candy you will love versus what is only OK (because all candy is at least OK). I often can't remember what most of my costumes were, but I remember walking around the block with my dad and the anticipation of knocking on a door while he waited at the curb chatting with other parents we ran into. There was the rush of accomplishment at the perfectly timed joke accompanied by an extra piece of candy or two that I would proudly hold up in victory.

• Social skills: Talking with Rich Hanner, our boss, he mentioned that some kids come to his door and don't say a word while collecting candy. Here's where the joke is genius. You are forced to talk to adults you do not know. I remember being so nervous and looking down at my hands the first couple of times each year, but I knew I would have to say something to get a sweet treat. And then as you keep going, you realize that talking to adults isn't as scary as you once thought. They might even tell you a joke back (a rarity, but still a highlight because you could repeat it to your friends).

• Intuition: Obviously, you don't go to doors that have their porch lights off. But what about the weird neighbor around the street who doesn't wave when you walk by the front yard? Going door to door gives you an opportunity to evaluate social cues and trust your gut a little. This will become valuable later in life if you become a reporter and have to talk to random people on the street during the Farmers Market; you know who to approach and who maybe to save for another day.

• Community building: Trick or treating allows you to meet neighbors. You get to meet other kids on the street. When you go to a church function, family party or a school function, you do not get as many of those random interactions. And there's an important aspect to dealing with people who you normally wouldn't interact with. You might even make a new friend. My friendship with Beena, one of my closest friends since the 4th grade, was strengthened through trick or treating together — even when I was insanely jealous of her 'I'm a dinner table' costume. All of my neighbors still ask my dad about me, in part, because they knew me from trick or treating.

So if you have never taken your kid out to ask strangers for candy, try it this year. If you usually keep the porch light out, buy a bag of candy and give it a try. Maybe even ask the kids for a joke. In the very least, their confused angelic (or literal devil) faces will be hilarious.