The Halloween loot bag
One Halloween many years ago, expecting my nieces and nephews to drop by the house for our All Saints’ Day observance which falls a day after this scary feast, I decided to prepare “healthy” treats for the kiddies’ “trick or treat” loot bags.
So I filled these with boxes of raisins, fresh apples, oranges, dried mangoes, home-baked (all right, ordered from a home cook) cookies, and healthy oatmeal bars. Watching me fill up the loot bags, the hubby shook his head and asked: “What do you think you’re doing? You think that’s what children want for Halloween?”
So it was with a smirk when he looked my way after I distributed the healthy Halloween loot bags. “Ay, raisins!?” said a nephew, tossing aside the little red box. “Wala pong candy?” politely asked a cousin of his, searching in vain through the bag. “Ma, are we supposed to eat this?” queried my son.
Promptly, the little traitor and his cousins put their loot bags aside and scrambled to grab as much candy as they could from aunts and uncles more savvy—and less politically correct—about what children crave come Halloween.
I should have known better. After all, Halloween is not even native to the Philippines, but a feast we apparently copied from the United States and other Western climes. There is apparently a native “version” of it, where gangs of youths invade the yards of neighbors, carting off household implements which the owners are supposed to “ransom” from the mischief-makers in exchange for cash or preferred goodies. But the Halloween that has entered our urban consciousness is one mimicked from Hollywood, from movies and TV shows showing children clad in all kinds of outrageous costumes and going door to door, clamoring for sweet “treats” from the householders or else they’d be “tricked,” usually by having their trees garlanded with toilet paper.
So if we were to indulge in a “foreign” and “colonial” practice, who was I to tamper with one of its essential ingredients? That ingredient is candy, and a point of the feast is apparently to bring children to a sugar high from which they won’t be able to recover until after Christmas.
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Halloween, says Jane Wells of the business website CNBC, and apparently a connoisseur of candy, is the “one night candy makers and dentists come together, preparing to cash in. One will make a killing now, the other … later.”
Wells says the American National Confectioners Association predicts that this Halloween, “Americans will spend $2.6 billion … that’s $8 for every man, woman and child.” Let’s not kid ourselves. Though the candy-grubbing is indulged in by young monsters and ghosts, Wells says “half the candy in junior’s plastic pumpkin is going straight to [a parent’s] secret stash as you lamely explain, ‘I don’t want you to get a sugar high, sweetie.’” Yeah, right.
I remember watching a movie in which the events transpire on Halloween. I don’t remember much about it, except for the scene at the home of the town’s richest resident, who kept a huge cauldron by his entrance filled with the most scrumptious chocolate bars and candy brands for giving away to little extortionists. Since imported chocolates are still quite expensive in these parts, such generosity left me in awe.
According to Wells, the Top 5 most popular Halloween candies in the United States are: KitKat Bar, Hershey Bar, Snickers, M&Ms, and Reese’s.
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What?! No Serge’s, Goya’s or, horrors, Choc-Nut?
I’m dating myself, but these are chocolate and candy brands that Filipino kids growing up in the 1950s and 1960s lusted after. They’re still around, though eclipsed somewhat by newer and multinational brands. But I remember a time when the average Filipino kid could find nothing but those brands and a few other local products in the corner sari-sari store. Sure, richer kids could buy imported chocolates from the bigger supermarkets or even PX outlets. But not for them the joys of walking away from the corner store and munching on Choc-Nut, letting its choco-peanut goodness stick to the roof of your mouth and slowly melt as you savored every morsel.
I still buy Choc-Nut from time to time in the nearest supermarket, though I must say the size of the latest versions leaves much to be desired. I would buy them mainly to bring to relatives and friends abroad yearning for a taste of home (and childhood), along with dried mangoes, polvoron and pastillas.
Lately, I’ve discovered a most decadent version of dried mangoes, with slices dipped or dunked in chocolate, the sweet chocolate contrasting pleasantly with the piquant mango. That’s bringing local sweets a step up the confectionery ladder!
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Still, I very much doubt that today’s Pinoy kids would cherish a trick-or-treat bag filled with Choc-Nut, polvoron, pastillas and dried mangoes, even chocolate-dipped ones.
The Filipino child’s fondest Halloween memory, I bet, would consist of digging into a hard-earned stash of, yes, KitKat, Hershey’s, Snickers, M&Ms and Reese’s, and their ilk. The secret, I would venture, is branding, which lends the imported confectioneries not just familiarity and catchy slogans, but also a “guarantee” of quality and taste. Many of us may have grown out of our “mental colony” which once held that anything imported was always better than the local counterpart. We have since discovered otherwise, but not, it seems, when it comes to candies and chocolates. And when it comes to sweets, the Halloween loot bag has come to symbolize greed and avarice, yes, but also the last carefree time of our lives, when we feasted on sugar bombs and didn’t have to worry about calories, cavities and, looking further forward—dentures.
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