by Terrance Mc Arthur
Have you ever had a celebration…with 1,500 of your closest friends? I’ll do that on Halloween night, at the Sanger Chamber of Commerce’s 29th Annual Trick-or-Treat Party.
Imagine two blocks of Sanger’s downtown (Well, that is Sanger’s downtown) blocked off and filled with trick-or-treaters, music, and community groups who hand out candy. As for me, I’m in the middle of it, the master of ceremonies giving instructions, describing costumes, and telling horrible jokes.
It all started twenty-eight years ago, when community leaders were concerned about the safety of children on Halloween. Children in vision-obstructing masks running around neighborhoods at night, cars traveling the same streets—it seemed like a recipe for disaster. How could the community provide a safe place for candy-seeking kids? The first Downtown Sanger Trick-or-Treat was born.
Mr. Sieve (pronounced SEE-vee, I’m told—I hate to tell you how many times I mispronounced it), insurance agent extraordinaire, was the host, dressed as Batman and backed by a Bat-Signal. About two hundred children trooped along the sidewalks that first year. As the years went by, the crowds grew, and now 1,500 children and their families is not an unusual turnout.
I joined the celebration a year or two later, and I’m there every year (Okay—I missed one year, because I couldn’t get out of a play rehearsal). The party goes on, rain or shine—only two times has the weather made a mess of things, but the Sanger Community Center served to keep the hungry little monsters safe and dry.
The town comes together to make the Halloween magic happen. The City of Sanger sets up the portable stage, tables, and chairs. Community groups set up their tables with covers, decorations, and goody-givers. Churches, veterans’ organizations, school groups, businesses, scouting and other groups pass out treats or underwrite the costs of candy, bags, and other expenses. Sometimes, there is a photo station. A DJ plays music for the event. There are port-a-potties for those little emergencies. A church group sells coffee, hot chocolate, sodas, hot dogs, Frito boats, and water.
At 5:30 p.m., I arrive at the corner of N Street and 7th Street, properly costumed. It’s a balancing act to come up with an outfit that is going to look cool without being too scary for the toddlers. I have appeared as the Phantom of the Opera, a big game hunter, a cowboy, a ringmaster, a clown, a mad scientist, a gunfighter, and more. It’s a challenge.
When families start arriving, I work with the NJROTC cadets of Sanger High School to turn a crowd into a set of lines snaking across Brehler Park, the green space on the other side of N Street from the stage. For many years, the children were organized by grade level. Since many families had more than one child, and some little ones get nervous being around a lot of people in strange costumes, the set-up has been changed to keep family groups together. During this gathering time, the emcee—me—tells everybody the Halloween rules:
1. When your group is told to start, come to the stage in a line.
2. Get your official trick-or-treat bag. The people at the treat tables will not give you candy if you do not have an official trick-or-treat bag.
3. Go across the stage while the master of ceremonies announces and describes the costumes.
4. Follow your line leader, one of our NJROTC cadets, from table to table to get your goodies.
At 6:30 p.m., I call for Line 1 to get things going. The group follows the cadet to the stage, the children get their bags, and they cross the stage while I do my best to identify what they represent. I have to be able to recognize every animal, superhero, monster, and Disney princess. It isn’t always easy. Of course, there are also the youngsters (usually teens) without a costume. Those are easy to guess. “Oh, look! A kid who wants candy!”
Once they cross the stage, the line heads around the corner to wend its way from table to table, but making sure everybody gets goodies means that the line gets backed up. When it does, I break out my file of jokes. I have compiled a list of Halloween jokes in large-font type that runs nine or ten pages. They are very silly,
“What did the lost Egyptian child say?…I want my mummy!”
“I crossed a turkey and an octopus and got…drumsticks for everyone at Thanksgiving!”
“What does a sea monster eat?…Fish and ships!”
“What do you call a clean shape-shifter?…A wash-and-werewolf!”
They don’t get better, folks…only faster. Sometimes, I throw in a few story jokes, if the delay is going to be a few minutes.
The crowds keep coming to line up, get their bags, and be treated. It goes on and on until 8 p.m., when I announce the end of the trick-or-treating, and it’s all over but the clean-up.
It’s a community celebration. We do it for the children, but we have fun, too.