Have a piece of candy, and say thank you

The Jekyll and Hyde of holidays -- Halloween -- surrounds us once again.

And while we try to justify why it even exists, why it has two faces, and why it has, in recent decades, turned into a month-long festival, we do have to be mindful that Halloween happens. It often brings little kiddies out to our neighborhood streets and semi-major highways at the worst time of the day -- when the sun is all but gone and the work traffic is flowing.

The bummer about Halloween is that through the years it has morphed into a disturbing growth on the calendar that might not be missed if it was surgically lopped off. Unless, of course, you make your living selling greeting cards, candy, costumes or the burgeoning number of home decorations.

The Jekyll side we can deal with: The city of Amsterdam, for example, hosts a parade (it was Saturday), which was followed by a big party. That's a good thing. And fire department parties abound: where youngsters can bob for apples, win prizes for best costumes and best jack-'o-lanterns, have treats, warm cider, doughnuts, hang out with friends and neighbors, play some games, go home, eat a bunch of candy, get sick.

Controlled observances have their place, and are the right way to go. Fire departments and other civic organizations really come through for their communities on Halloween. They offer a safe and fun way to mark the holiday.

Which is why Halloween's dark half is so incredibly disturbing. This is the time of year for smashing pumpkins, tossing eggs and tomatoes, wrapping homes in toilet paper, squirting shaving cream, sticking pins in candy bars and razor blades in apples. It's a greeting-card holiday during which varying degrees of mischief are expected.

Halloween's dark half is most closely related to the tired, worn out, completely misunderstood tradition of trick-or-treating -- the definition of which has become: "give me candy." The words "please" and "thank you" have seemingly lost their role in this tired and tiring display.

There was a time, and it's not that long ago, when trick-or-treating meant young children walked around their own neighborhood in costume, carrying a bag and a small orange box, saying "trick-or-treat for UNICEF," being handed a couple of pennies and a piece of candy, saying thank you, and being excited about what they received.

Those days are long gone. The costumes are optional; the ages vary widely; parents shuttle kids from one neighborhood to another to grab as much candy as they can carry; manners and gratitude don't exist. Trick-or-treating has become such a joke that you can't even rely on it taking place on the same day each year. Halloween itself is today -- the festivities that mark the occasion were strung out for days in advance, in many instances.

We know many of you are planning to take part in Halloween in some form or another -- hopefully your plans included one of the controlled observances in your community.

For the trick-or-treaters, we urge you to go quietly; exercise caution. And some manners wouldn't hurt.