What has happened to the pleasant ritual of Halloween is fightening. Over the years, the customs associated with that holiday have become mixed with other folk customs, such as street mugging, and Miss Manners feels that one must go back to the traditional form if Halloween is to retain its place in our culture.
One source of confusion is that children who have not been taught the proper methods of trick-or-treating naturally assume that they can improvise this activity from teh familiar year-round ones that they have been taught, such as vandalism and writing on bathroom walls. Adults have incorrectly assumed that the occasion is a free-form one in which they can express their ordinary feelings about children through such methods as poison.
Actually, the trick-or-treat is an exact ritual. It should be performed by small children in costume - a6-footer would be out of place, for example, even wearing a Bill Blass patterned sheet - followed at a respectful distance by adults with an interest in their welfare.
The child must ring each doorbell himself and must be encouraged to return to the doorway, after he has fled in stage fright. He then announces the traditional threat: "Trick or treat!"
At this point, the involuntary cocelebrant, who has just anwered his door to find a bunch of tiny Darth Vadars, must express surprise and fright. "Why, Sally Lynn, don't you look adorable!" is an inappropriate remark.The correct one is "Good God, what's that?"
The host must then decide whether he prefers to treat the visitors or let them trick him. The current definition of a treat is something that will rot the teeth; traditionalists prefer an apple or an orange, but traditionalists are never young enough to be on the consuming end of this.
The child who has been treated may then say, "You gave her more than you gave me," followed by, "Thank you."
If, however, the challenge of the trick has been accepted, it is within the right of the child to perform it. Here is where it is especially important ot distinguish trick-or-treating from other childish behavior, such as destroying property.
Tricks that will later involve law inforcement or other city services, such as the trash or fire departments, are not in the Halloween tradition. The traditional trick is soaping windows, which is just unpleasant enough to indicate that the threat was not idle, in the way that diplomatically thwarted nations indulge in mild annoyances without starting wars.
Parental guidance is suggested in the vocabulary to be used on the window. Four-letter words, such as may be appropriate on public bathroom walls, are inappropriate here. The ideal word for this occasion, in Miss Manners' opinion is "Phooey."
Q: Two of my friends, M. and S., were married almost three years ago. Because of my laziness (of which I am very ashamed) and because I never found an appropriate gift (they are very opinionated and choosy individuals), I have failed to give them a wedding present. However, this is not my problem (although the appropriate gift still remains a problem). My problem is that M. and S. (it is also their problem) separated several weeks ago. I believe that their chances of getting back together are slightly less than the proverbial snowball's. Thus, my dilemma. If I give them a present while they are separated and having marriage problems, they and other people may believe that I am making sport of their situation. Howeve, if I do not give them a gift, I continue to look cheap. M. continues to question me frequently on when I am going to give them the gift. What should I do? Since appropriate to give him a divorce gift in lieu of the wedding present? I do not plan to get married in the near future and do not expect a wedding present from either M. or S.
A: Miss Manners thinks you are not to plan a marriage in the hope of receiving a present from M. and/or S., as you see what good it did them. It is not generally known, but nevertheless true, that all presents are voluntary, including wedding presents in cases where the couple keep careful records of who spent what on them. Thus you are obligated to give them neither a wedding present nor a divorce present. However, your feeling that you are appearing to be cheap, reinforced with the constant reminders to that effect on the part of your friend, indicate that you wish to make an appropriate gesture. Under the circumstances, Miss Manners suggests that an appropriate present would be one that is easily divided would be one that is easily divided between bride and bridegroom, such as twin candlesticks, lamps or decks of cards.
Feel:ng incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white letter paper) to Miss Manners, The Washington Post.