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Halloween: what to give, what to get

SYNCHRONIZE your watches, people. In T-minus four days, Halloween festivities will descend upon America's streets, engulfing the nation in a huge, candy-scented mushroom cloud of blissful entertainment. For that single, dizzy, delirious night, our nation's seemingly listless youth will band together in a costumed confederacy of goody-related greed. Man, oh, man - it's gonna be sweet.

Last year, the National Retail Federation reported that Americans spent more than $1.8 billion on Halloween candy. Not bad for a holiday that traces its beginnings back to the 5th century B.C. with the Celtic festival of Samhain.

In Ireland, people believed that on Oct. 31, the spirits of dead people would roam the streets, looking for living bodies to inhabit before the Roman Catholic celebration of All Saints' Day, held Nov. 1. The practice of "trick-or-treating" came from a village custom of distributing food and milk to appease these visiting souls.

At some point, people started going door-to-door, begging for the specially made "soul cakes" that country folk would bake for their nocturnal interlopers. The more cakes a person gave out, the more prayers would be said for her deceased relatives.

Today, "soul cakes" bear a striking resemblance to Snickers bars, Mary Janes, and all the other sweet products that, for one season per year, materialize on grocers' shelves in their sacred "Fun Size" forms. Recipients of these treats won't promise to pray for you, but if you dole out the good stuff, they may refrain from egging your house and/or car.

For this reason, it's crucially important to distribute only the best confections on Halloween night. As a veteran trick-or-treater, I have acquired several years of experience in the field of Candy Reconnaissance. For those of you who are unsure of what to give the youngsters approaching your door this Sunday night, I present the following list of Halloween Distribution Dos and Don'ts.

DO DISTRIBUTE:

? Chocolate. On Halloween night, this is the poison of choice. Whether you go for Hershey, Mars, Mounds or Milk Duds, your contribution to the evening's festivities will be an honorable one.

? Skittles, Jolly Ranchers and Jujubes. For those individuals who dislike chocolate, fruit-flavored products are the next best thing. Perhaps most importantly, fruit snacks are like money in the bank for the purposes of Schoolyard Commerce. A Jolly Rancher can, in most cases, be traded either for a Snickers bar or a pack of M&Ms, depending on the current market.

DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT DISTRIBUTING

? Tootsie Rolls. Contrary to popular opinion, these are not appropriate substitutes for actual chocolate products. Tootsie Rolls may be a cheap source of brown-colored sugar, but they lack the richness evident in other chocolate delicacies. If you want to distribute something small, yet delicious, spring for a bag of miniature candy bars or peanut butter cups. There's nothing more disappointing than opening your treat back to find millions of these rock-hard, unappetizing horrors.

? Candied Apples. Or, for that matter, any homemade product involving a piece of whole, uncooked fruit. Even if your particular batch of sugar-coated delicacies happens to be sans razor-blade, the stigma still exists. However you slice them, candied apples are malevolent balls of crimson death. 'Nuff said.

? Pennies, Nickels and Dimes. I'm not sure when this custom began, but things have gone far enough. Kids don't care about money on Halloween night. They're out there expressly to acquire as much candy as possible. Handing some child a few cents may seem pretty generous - especially since most Halloween candy costs less than that handful of small change - but it still defeats the sacred purpose of trick-or-treating. I beg you; use those pennies to purchase a bag of candy. The kids have several more years before the long arm of capitalist enterprise crushes their innocent spirits. Why rush the inevitable?

? Whole Candy Bars. There's always some smart-aleck who distributes full-size candy bars on Halloween night. This usually is the same person who refuses to vote in local elections, lets his dog pee on everyone else's lawn, and holds 4 a.m. rehearsals for his up-and-coming garage band. Once Halloween rolls around, however, he's the St. Nick of the neighborhood, distributing Butterfingers like a relief worker in some flood-ravaged country. Believe me, you are not fooling anyone. Just buy the "fun size" and try to attend a few town council meetings.

* Coupons. Perhaps the cardinal sin of Halloween candy distribution. At least with nickels and dimes, a kid can go out and buy himself some actual candy. Throwing a coupon for Purina Dog Chow into someone's bag shows a flagrant disregard for the sanctity of this holiday. Anyone who practices this atrocious Halloween behavior deserves a vigorous egging, and possibly a firm flogging with a cat o' nine tails.

* Raisins. Every year, someone tries to make a healthful statement by distributing boxes of "nature's candy" to local kids. Newsflash: Halloween neither is the time nor the place to discuss low-cal alternatives to real treats. Besides, raisins are not, in fact, candy. Raisins are dried grapes, and most kids get enough of them during snack time at school. Lighten up and buy some Nerds.

I humbly submit this list to my fellow readers, in hopes that the newest generation of trick-or-treaters will benefit from my suggestions - and perhaps save me a Kit Kat.

(Kiki Petrosino's column appears Wednesdays in The Cavalier Daily.)

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