When trick-or-treaters come knock knocking


Photo credit: Kate Nuelle

illustration by Kate Nuelle

The Halloween when I got the most candy was when I tap danced in my Converse in front of each of my neighbors’ houses. My toes hurt from repeatedly smashing them into the concrete, but my bag was so heavy that I had to sling it over my shoulder to carry it home. It was so worth it.

Why did I have to tap dance to earn candy, you ask? Well, let’s just say St. Louis takes trick-or-treating very seriously.

It took me leaving Missouri to realize St. Louis is the only place where kids are required to tell a joke in order to get candy on Halloween. Last year, I asked one of my Texas friends on Halloween what her joke was. She looked at me the way I looked at my seventh grade algebra teacher when she introduced letters into math—utter confusion.

Apparently, not every child in America has the experience of coming up with the perfect joke that will maximize the candy you get. Bonus points if no other kid on your block has the same joke. There was nothing worse than waiting in line behind the three-year-old from two houses down and realizing even she knew the one with the really good Dracula punchline.

I’m not sure how I would’ve survived my favorite holiday if everyone just said “trick or treat” at every house, got their candy and moved along. Part of the fun for us in St. Louis was telling the joke that made everyone around a bonfire laugh. Having your neighbor dig through the bowl for a good piece of candy to reward such a stellar joke. Being invited inside by the sweet elderly woman because your sense of humor reminded her of her own grandchildren in another state. Nothing beat those individual moments with neighbors that were all sparked by a simple, witty joke.

As you near your last year of trick or treating, though, sometimes jokes aren’t enough. For my neighbors who knew I was a dancer, “What’s your joke?” became “Let’s see what those feet can do.”

Actually, the same year that I tap danced, my group of friends dressed up as Frozen characters, and to their embarrassment, instead of telling jokes, they sang “Let It Go” at nearly every house. I must admit, they had some impressive harmonies, but what they really got candy for was shutting up and moving on to the next audience.

I was really bummed when I had to retire my jokes upon reaching high school. All of us, St. Louisans or not, know the feeling of holiday magic dying out as we grow older. It’s depressing, to say the least.

But the first year I didn’t go trick-or-treating, a little girl rekindled my love for Halloween that I had missed in the days leading up to the 31st.

I sat on my front porch with my parents, grandparents and next-door neighbor. When it was my turn to hold the candy bowl, this group of kids in costumes ranging from zombies to Tinkerbell made their way up the steps onto our porch and lined up in front of me. One of them told this joke:

What’s a ghost’s favorite fruit? Boo-berry.

It’s not that great of a joke, but it’s one of the first ones I remember telling.

I quickly realized why I shouldn’t be sad about not being a kid anymore. Now, I’m part of the audience, and if there hadn’t been all of those smiling faces to tell my own jokes to growing up, Halloween would never have been the same.

I’m glad to be home in St. Louis this semester so that I can again sit on my front porch and hear some good old fashioned Halloween comedy, even if it is from 10 feet away and through a mask, and who knows? I just might request a little tap dancing.