The air conditioning was blasting and the sun was shining, but 9-year-olds dreaming of Captain Marvel or Spider-Man costumes and jonesing for some Smarties, Tootsie Rolls and candy corn were not the only ones looking ahead to Halloween on Wednesday.
Meadville City Council also was considering what City Manager Andy Walker jokingly refers to each year as “the most important decision you make" — when to hold Trick or Treat Night, a tradition that is somewhat loosely associated with Halloween in Crawford County.
It’s never too early to begin planning for the collection of free candy. In fact, Walker told council, city officials have already received a call on the issue from a resident and have met with the organizers of the annual Meadville Halloween Parade, often described as the largest nighttime parade in the commonwealth.
Not only was the decision the most pressure-packed dilemma council was likely to face, Walker joked, but also “Whatever decision you make will be wrong.”
In many parts of the world, legend has it, trick-or-treating is actually timed to coincide with Halloween. In Meadville, however, the timing of trick-or-treating — as much an art as it is a science — depends on a mix of tradition and local lore, considerations of municipal economics and attempts to read the tea leaves of possible public reaction.
Like an ecclesiastical official explaining the calculations behind the timing of Easter, Walker reminded council members how the determination of Trick or Treat Night has been handed down by the city’s past generations of patriarchs.
“The historical formula for trick or treat in Meadville has always been the Thursday before the Halloween parade, which has always been the last Saturday prior to Halloween,” Walker said.
This year, the Halloween parade is Oct. 26, which means that under the traditional formula, Trick or Treat Night would take place Oct. 24 — a full week before Halloween itself, which occurs on a Thursday this year, the traditional day for trick-or-treating in Meadville.
Why does it take place on Thursday in Meadville? The simple answer seems to be: Because that’s when kids trick or treat in Meadville.
Legend has it, Walker said, that the timing is related to the fact that Crawford Central School District schedules a day off for students each year on the Friday before the Halloween parade — so that teachers don’t have to deal with sugar-addled students who spent the previous evening gorging on free treats or stayed up late in hopes of playing spirited tricks on unsuspecting victims, according to the apocryphal tales that have grown over the years.
When he looked into whether there was any basis for this story a few years ago, Walker said, his investigation busted that myth like it was a handful of helium balloons trying to lift a baby up in the air.
“It’s not something that we’re worried about,” former Crawford Central Superintendent Charlie Heller told Walker.
So what to do when Halloween falls on a Thursday — abandon decades of tradition and move Trick or Treat Night to the Thursday after the parade? Or stick to the rites of our ancestors and ignore the actual holiday when it rolls around a week later?
The city might actually save some money in police overtime if Trick or Treat Night were held Oct. 31, Walker said, since overtime will be necessary that night in any event due to the “shenanigans that happen downtown.”
But council members had other concerns.
Mayor LeRoy Stearns recalled recommending that trick-or-treating be on Oct. 31 a few years back.
“I caught hell for that for quite a long time,” Stearns said.
Weather was a concern for Deputy Mayor Nancy Mangilo Bittner.
“The thing is, the later it gets, it seems like those poor kids are out there,” she said. “I mean, it’s nasty out there sometimes.”
The difference in a week at that time of year could mean a difference of about 14 minutes of daylight, Councilman Jim Roha pointed out.
“I’d like to leave it the way it is,” Councilman Sean Donahue said to a chorus of agreement from Mangilo Bittner and Councilman John Battaglia.
“It’s safer to have it earlier,” Battaglia added.
Council voted unanimously to hold Trick or Treat Night on Oct. 24, one week before Halloween.
Immediately following the vote, Stearns issued a prognostication.
“One of these days,” he said, “we’re going to get it on the 31st.”
Council’s next opportunity to do so will come in five years, according to timeanddate.com.
After that, they can try again in 2030, but additional chances won’t come until 2041 and 2047.
Mike Crowley can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.