Special K

Son was at a Halloween party last week. It was a major milestone in his life – and mine – as it was the first after-school party he went to that wasn’t a birthday party. It was a Halloween party so they were asked to dress up in a costume.

Son decided he wanted to go as a Russian soldier.


Halloween hasn’t really rooted itself in the Nordics, not yet anyway, despite the retailers’ increased push of candy and pumpkins and plastic spiders. It’s coming along, though, and every year for that last three or four, Son and Daughter have gone out trick-or-treating, or as they say it, “collecting candy.”

Things weren’t always like that. Twenty years ago nobody went trick-or-treating and it wasn’t until late 1990s that the newspapers and retailers really started to make a big deal out of Halloween and the switch from October to November turned into a more light-hearted celebration than the All Saints’ Day the Swedes and the Finns had celebrated until then.

And so, one evening in 2000, our doorbell rang in a Stockholm suburb, and Wife went to open the door. I heard her say something to somebody, but couldn’t hear what, and couldn’t see to whom. I did see that she quickly turned around and walked past me into the kitchen.

“What is it?” I asked her.

“Oh, Halloween,” she said on her way back to the door.

At the door, there were two boys, maybe brothers because one of them looked a little too old to be trick-or-treating.

We weren’t sure if they were even doing that because they didn’t say anything. There was no “Trick or treeee-heeaaat!”, or “How are you, Ma’am”, because there was nothing. When Wife opened the door, the boys just stood there.

“Are you trick-or-treating?” Wife asked them.

They simply shrugged their shoulders.

“You guys looking for candy?” she then asked them.

Another shrug.

That’s when Wife turned around to look for something to give them. Now, we were just as oblivious to the fact that it was Halloween as the boys were, so we didn’t have any candy in the house. Wife went through the kitchen cabinets to find something to give to the kids. Something was better than nothing, she figured, as she walked back to the door.

The boys didn’t have any baskets or bags or anything else to put their candy in, so they just held out their hands. And that’s when Wife gave each one of them a mini box of Special K cereal.

“Happy Halloween,” she said.

The boys shrugged their shoulders and left.

Two weeks later, somebody threw an egg on our kitchen window, and I had my suspicions. However, despite extensive detective work on the incident, including spending hours on my knees looking out the kitchen floor ready to record any suspicious activity with my video camera, I could never establish a connection between the Special K boxes and the egg on our window.

The following year, Wife bought candy for the trick-or-treaters. We waited all evening, but nobody came.

I shrugged my shoulders, and had some more myself.

Today, the kids went trick-or-treating in a Helsinki suburb. My cousin, who moved back to Finland from London recently, had her kids and their friends go out, and Son and Daughter got to tag along.

Now, Halloween hasn’t really become the mainstream holiday in Finland, yet. It’s close, but not quite there yet, so the candy adventure had been carefully planned in advance. My cousin, and her mother – my aunt – had handpicked a few old friends and neighbors that the kids could visit, just to make sure nobody would get yelled at.

Ten kids, my cousin, her husband and I walked across the yard to the first door. The kids rang the doorbell, and as the door opened, they all yelled, “trick or tree-heeaaat!” and the lady who opened the door was delighted to see a group of bright-eyed kids: the Grim Reaper, the Dracula, the pumpkin, a couple of witches, a princess, and a Russian soldier disguised as a boy in a striped shirt.

“Come on in,” the lady said, and then she took photos of the kids, as they all lined up to get candy.

The rest of the stops were in another building. Three doors, in three different floors but with the same procedure: more photos, more candy.

Fourth and final stop was in the top floor. It was my aunt’s apartment.

Ring, ring, they rang the doorbell, and as the door opened, the kids yelled “Trick or treat” again, and then … there was silence.

On the other side of the threshold there was a ghost.

My aunt was wearing a garbage bag over her upper body, with holes for eyes and a scary grin on her flashlight-lit face.

“Trick or treat?” the ghost asked the kids in a surprise move, before inviting everybody inside so she could hand out the candy.

We’re new at this.

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