You wanna know what’s wrong with Halloween? It’s become an entitlement.
Actually, I don’t mind that so much. I like candy. I like free stuff. Put them together and you have a great holiday.
What I mind is that a lot of today’s kids don’t do the holiday right. Halloween should be a quid pro quo. Too many young Americans want their quid without giving me my quo.
I’ve noticed that about half of today’s trick-or-treaters don’t say, “Trick or treat!” When I open the door, I see them just standing there, bags open, waiting.
So I stand there, candy bowl in hand. Sometimes I give a hint: “What do you say?”
Some of the younger kids whisper, “Thank you?”
I blame the parents.
“No,” I say. “You don’t say, ‘Thank you.’ I haven’t given you anything yet. And if you don’t say, ‘Trick or treat,’ I’m not going to.”
My cajoling is as nothing compared with that of Marta Vogel, a writer and musician who lives in North Bethesda. About four years ago, Marta started demanding that trick-or-treaters sing for their Snickers.
Literally. She posts signs leading up to her front door explaining that before getting a treat, every costumed child must sing a snippet of song.
“I think the holiday needs a little tweaking,” Marta told me. “I see it as an opportunity — albeit a very short one — to connect with young people in your community.”
At first, Marta said, the kids were not so keen on connecting.
“They thought: ‘What is this? I have to do something? Just give me candy.’ ”
But after a few years, they’ve gotten used to it. Some middle- and high-schoolers even practice beforehand. (We will leave for another day the question of whether anyone over the age of 10 should even be trick-or-treating.)
Marta forbids “Happy Birthday.” Only the tiniest tots are allowed to sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Consequently, she hears a lot of Disney songs.
What she laments is that some kids don’t have any idea what to sing. Don’t they teach “This Land Is Your Land” in school anymore?
“I was thinking this year I might give them some suggestions,” Marta said. “If somebody just says, ‘Think of something,’ it’s kind of hard.”
Some trick-or-treaters — boys, especially — would rather leave empty-handed than sing.
“Sometimes I go ahead and give them something anyway, if they give it a little bit of effort,” Marta said. “I don’t mind if they’re off-tune. I want them to have fun.”
Occasionally, she’s surprised. Last year, a 6-year-old practically brought the house down when he belted out a song. “He said he was taking voice lessons,” Marta said. “He was great.”
One neighboring family is from Sweden. Last year, those kids sang a Swedish folk song.
What, no ABBA?
Last week, I gave a tour of The Washington Post to a group of 15-year-olds from Sunderland, England, which is not too far from Newcastle. Since 2010, students from the Monkwearmouth School there have been spending 10 days in Washington as guests of students at the School Without Walls, a District magnet school.
The exchange is organized by Shakir Ghazi, a teacher at School Without Walls, and Monkwearmouth’s Iain Biddle .
The students see a lot of official Washington — the Capitol, the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress — but I’m sure that briefly experiencing life as an American teenager, courtesy of their host families, makes as big an impression.
Foreign places are less exotic than they once were, what with cable television and the Internet. “Family Guy” has made brothers of us all. But there was one American thing that the British kids told me they marveled at: Chipotle. They pronounced the Mexican fast-casual restaurant chain a truly wondrous place.
Believe me, there’s nothing quite like hearing “Chipotle” pronounced in a rich, Northern England accent.
I’m still hearing from readers who go to great lengths to accommodate their aging pets. Jan Vallone of Centreville, Va., has a 15-year-old bearded collie named Gatsby.
“He, too, is having senior issues but handling them with good boy grace,” Jan wrote. “I drink a glass of water before I go to bed so that when I wake up to go, I can let him out for a quick pee during the night.”
Now that’s devotion.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.