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Traditions dictate Halloween candy not ‘free’ everywhere

Traditions dictate Halloween candy not ‘free’ everywhere

There are already two purple bowls full of candy on the counter at my friends’ apartment, waiting for Waterloo kids to raid the building on Oct. 31. Jenna might have to refill those bowls though, because between the four of us last Saturday, certain treats didn’t last much longer than board game night.

Jenna and her husband Jason shared more insight beyond game strategy, sugar and popcorn. Apparently when kids go trick-or-treating outside of central Iowa, they don’t trade jokes for candy. That’s right: You here in northern Iowa have been dumping pounds of mini chocolate bars and happiness on groups of tiny freeloaders hopping from house to house, without asking for anything –– a knock knock joke, an Elsa impersonation, or even a Dad-joke style pun –– in return. Kids in Indianola prepare as much as a solid 15 minutes before the night starts, begging parents to share their best spooky wisecracks for quick memorization. The three Indianolians present on Saturday know the tradition isn’t limited to our hometown, because Jason grew up a full 15 minutes north in Des Moines, and he told jokes at stranger’s doors, too.

It turns out the joke-for-treat tradeoff isn’t just a weird metro-Iowa quirk. Researchers debate on the specifics, but three theories in particular stand out to me (and the writers at, God bless them). During the Celtic celebration of Samhain, regarded as the first itineration of the holiday before missionaries Christian-ized it, people left food and drink on their doorsteps to placate roaming spirits visiting for the night, and full centuries before the college Halloween party was established, passersby started dressing as those spirits to earn free drinks. Middle Age Scottish tradition goes a step farther, where children and poor adults go door to door reciting religious prayers in exchange for food –– and the not-so-religious traded the prayers for jokes, songs and other trickery. And then there’s the early German-American community celebrations, where adults at the door had to guess which kid was which under the masks and costumes, and kids were rewarded if nobody could guess who they were.

As a fun side note, tradition has it the colors orange and black as tied to Halloween also take root from Samhain –– black supposedly symbolizing the “death of summer” and orange representing the fall harvest. It kind of puts a new spin on Comet colors, eh?

You can reach Staff Writer Kate Hayden at [email protected]

Kate Hayden

Staff Writer

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