In Penacook and Boscawen, Halloween comes early

  • Gabriella Cordano, 3, of Boscawen takes a piece of candy from one of several bowls outside the Boscawen Town Hall during the town’s annual trick-or-treat event on Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. ALYSSA DANDREA/Monitor staff

  • Jayden Handy of Weare was one of dozens of trick-or-treaters lined up by the candy table outside the Boscawen Town Hall on Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. —ALYSSA DANDREA/Monitor staff

  • Eighteen-month-old Jackson Zyannizze dressed up as a cow for Boscawen’s annual trick-or-treat event on Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. —ALYSSA DANDREA/Monitor staff

  • Amelia Bryant, 7, of Penacook went trick-or-treating with family on Community Drive in her hometown on Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. ALYSSA DANDREA/Monitor staff

  • Ten-month-old Denlyn Carrington rides in a pirate ship through the parking lot of the Boscawen Town Hall on Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. Denlyn, of Boscawen, went trick-or-treating with his parents. ALYSSA DANDREA/Monitor staff

Ray Duckler
Monday, October 30, 2017

Cruella de Vil loves celebrating Halloween the day before Halloween.

That’s all she’s ever known, since her mother took her trick-or-treating through the streets of Penacook on chilly October nights, always on the 30th, near her home on Summer Street.

“I grew up here,” Cruella told me Monday on my front porch. “I love that they do it here the night before. My mother brought me when I was a kid. Now I’m bringing my kids.”

Her real name is Holly Drew, and she lives in Belmont now. But each year she returns to Penacook, where Halloween has been celebrated a day early ever since anyone can remember.

Cruella was joined by dog catchers Jasper and Horace, plus a pair of Dalmatians. This was actually her family. This was actually a memory that stayed strong.

She has no problem celebrating this holiday when no one else does.

“I walk the same route I did when I was growing up,” said Cruella, her opinion on the matter as black and white as her hair. “This is tradition.”

I heard that word a lot. Tradition. I tried to push people toward the column I wanted to write, the one about Penacook and Boscawen getting this wrong by trick-or-treating on the wrong day.

Christmas falls on Dec. 25 each year. Period.

The Oct. 30th, though, is fine for folks in this region. As Danielle Murray told me, “I grew up here on High Street. It’s our special thing.”

This is a unique scenario. In Penacook and Boscawen, unlike the rest of the Concord area, we have an irony as delicious as a Kit Kat.

A change on the calendar, a rebellious spirit, has morphed into a tradition in two towns, and no one really seems to know when it all started.

There are theories. I spoke to Lt. Jason Killary of the Boscawen police department. He told me about something called Gate Night, when kids ventured out and stole gates that enclosed farm animals.

The farmer would wake the next morning and see his cows and chickens walking free, visiting neighbors.

“I saw something the other day from the History Channel,” said Killary, who’s been on the force since 2009. “That explained Gate Night as a night for kids on a prankster holiday. The animals would be all over the place.”

The connection here was vague, but some have said that decades ago Penacook’s rough-and-tumble style meant police needed to pay special attention, on a special day, to Concord’s mischievous little brother.

“The explanation I read about taking the gates off makes sense as far as a prank is concerned, but I have no idea,” Killary told me.

Someone, somewhere once agreed. I found at least one documented attempt to move Penacook and Boscawen back into sync with the rest of the country.

On Aug. 15, 2008, former Concord police Chief Robert Barry submitted a report to the mayor and city council, detailing a concern that had been expressed at a council meeting to “consider changing the traditional dates for Halloween so that both Concord and Penacook celebrate this event on the same day.”

No date was mentioned in the report, but it’s a good bet the citizen wanted Halloween to be held on Halloween.

In his report, Barry wrote that his department wanted the day-before schedule kept intact, saying, “Firstly, tradition has dictated the dates and times and a change would disrupt the routine of many and potentially separate Penacook from Boscawen as they currently celebrate together on the same evening.”

He added that the staggered trick-or-treating made it easier for police to cover events.

Still, Killary grew up in Bow, and like anyone from outside Penacook and Boscawen (including me), Halloween and Oct. 30 mixed together like chocolate and bologna.

“Trick-or-treating on Halloween was always the way it was done,” Killary told me. “Having Halloween the weekend before the real Halloween or the day before the real one seemed somewhat confusing, and it loses a little bit of the romance.”

I agreed. Soon, though, after passing out Kit Kats and Twix bars and Almond Joy bars and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, I learned that the people north of Concord were fine with the current format.

In fact, they like it that way.

“It’s always been the day before,” said Jimmy Burke of Penacook. “Since I can remember.”

He was with his daughter,  Lily, who wore a Jason mask and carried an ax.

And a tradition, as well.