Black Cat

Going not gentle into that middle age.

Trick-Or-Treating with Poetry

Filed under: Expat,Holidays — 5 November 2006 @ 11:09 am

The poem below sounds very like the one that was loudly and confidently recited to me when I opened my door to the first set of Trick-or-Treaters last Tuesday evening. Apologies for the following translation in English, which loses a great deal of the original grace, meter, and rhyme. The kid who wrote it in German is a poet. I ain’t.


Wenn Schatten ihre Welt verlassen,
lässt “Trick or Treat” Euch bald erblassen.
Klopft es dann an Deinem Haus.
denkst Du nur “Oh weh, oh Graus!”
Wollt ihr dem bösen Streich entkommen,
dann sind Gaben sehr willkommen.
Süßes stimmt die Geister heiter,
und sie ziehen streichlos weiter.
(–Klaus H., Graz)

When the Shadows leave their world,
“Trick or Treat” will make you turn pale.
When you hear knocking on your door
you’ll think “Oh no! Oh Horrors!”
If you want to excape their pranks
then you’ll have to pay alms.
Sweets placate the ghosts
and they’ll leave without playing pranks on you.
(–Judy, translator)

Halloween is for kids here. In the last 3 years or so they’ve taken to the American tradition of Trick-or-Treating with enthusiasm. They dress up in elaborate or simple costumes, just like the kids in the U.S., and go door-to-door holding out their bags expecting a treat to be given in exchange for the recitation of the poem. The ones who aren’t so industrious as to memorize a poem say simply “Süßes oder Saures” (“sweet or sour” meaning “give me something sweet or I’ll do something bad”).

Adults don’t do Halloween. Adults in Hamburg wouldn’t be caught dead wearing fanciful costumes to work. They will accompany their kids on their rounds through the neighborhoods, standing a respectable distance away from the door so that the kids can have the limelight, but I’ve never seen any adults go around trick-or-treating. It appears that Halloween is being spread through the schools, so only adults with small children know about it. Or ex-pat Americans who put on a witches hat to answer the door and hand out candy while grinning like an idiot because the kids are soooo cute in their costumes. But my elderly neighbors downstairs don’t have a clue, and, like most of the folks in my suburban neighborhood, leave it to me to take care of these oddly-dressed little whippersnappers who threaten mayhem if they’re not placated with sweets.

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1 Comment »

  1. Redzilla:

    Did you ever have this thing happen when you were a kid? You ring the doorbell and a cranky, confused old woman answers. She has forgotten it is Halloween. She has no candy. She drops a handful of WheatThins in your trick or treat bag. Yay.

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