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The St. Louis Halloween Joke-Telling Tradition: Is it a Trick or a Treat?

Halloween may be over, but the St. Louis tradition of telling Halloween jokes still stands. Read about students' experiences with this tradition, as well as other trick-or-treating stories.

Welcome to St. Louis—home of the Cardinals, gooey butter cake, and a long-standing tradition of telling jokes on Halloween.

If you’re from St. Louis, you are likely familiar with the concept of Halloween jokes. If you’re from another city, you may have no idea what I’m talking about.

As someone who grew up in St. Louis, the tradition of joke-telling was a regular part of my Halloween celebrations. However, after receiving many mixed reactions about the subject, I realized that most of the world outside of St. Louis is completely unaware of this tradition. I decided to further investigate people’s experiences associated with this tradition and settle the Halloween joke debate once and for all.

Knock knock. Who’s there? It’s the St. Louis natives.

I first contacted a couple people who, like myself, grew up in St. Louis and considered themselves Halloween joke connoisseurs. I was interested to hear their stories, understand their opinions on this tradition, and possibly find out a few of their favorite Halloween jokes.

I first talked to Fontbonne University sophomore, Sophia Torregrossa, about her experiences with trick-or-treating.

“I did grow up telling jokes on Halloween. I don’t think I ever actually came up with any jokes; I kind of just heard them from other people. I likely heard most of the jokes at Trunk-or-Treat, which is a school event that is hosted before Halloween. I would just eavesdrop on people and steal their jokes. Then, I would use all the jokes I heard on Trunk-or Treat on Halloween.”

She said she really likes the tradition of joke-telling on Halloween.

“It allows you to make a connection with the people who are giving you free candy and is kind of like an ice breaker when you are talking to a stranger.”

Interested to hear her favorite Halloween joke?

“What do you call a fat pumpkin? A plumpkin!”

Next, I talked to my friend, Ashley Askew, who is a junior at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky.

She, too, learned many of her jokes from her elementary school’s Trunk-or-Treat events prior to Halloween. In addition, she played a few “tricks” of her own in order to get the best jokes to “impress” her neighbors.

“I usually trick-or-treated with my best friend growing up and her family, and they had really unique jokes. I think their dad came up with most of them. So, whenever we would go to houses, I would let her say her joke first—and it was usually pretty good—and I would use my bad joke on that first house. Then, at every other house we would go to, I would make sure that, like, I got to say my joke first. Then I would steal her jokes.”

So, what does Askew think about this tradition overall?

“It was always really terrifying to me because some houses would ask for jokes and other ones didn’t, so you would always just have this moment of fear before they hand you the candy bowl of, like, Do I have to prove myself to this person?”

“The worst was I had so many experiences where there was a man at the door and you’d tell him a joke, and he’d be like, ‘We already heard that one tonight.’”

“I actually went to someone who refused to give me candy until I went back and got a joke from my parents because they had already heard the one that I had given them.”

“It was kind of traumatic. I think that I grew from it… But, while it was happening, I can’t say I was a huge fan.”

Disclaimer: As the “best friend” featured in Askew’s story, I can confirm that these events did take place and that my jokes were often hijacked. Luckily, I was usually prepared with back-up jokes that I had acquired over the years from various Laffy Taffy wrappers and joke books.

“What’s a Halloween joke?”

Next, I interviewed two individuals who grew up outside of St. Louis to see how their trick-or-treating experiences differed. When prompted with the question “Did you grow up telling jokes on Halloween?” their reactions were priceless.

Fontbonne University junior Mara Cressey responded, “That’s a thing? I’m assuming it’s for trick-or-treaters.”

Cressey is originally from Kansas City, Missouri. She said she heard about the tradition when she came to St. Louis for school, but since living here, she has had few encounters with trick-or-treaters and never actually witnessed the joke-telling.

“The only Halloween joke I know is: What’s a ghost’s favorite dessert? I scream.”

While she didn’t grow up with the joke-telling tradition, Cressey did witness some “tricks” being played on Halloween.

“My mom would make kids who didn’t dress up do a cool trick… One time there was a kid who did a backflip.”

For this reason, the tradition of telling Halloween jokes didn’t seem too unusual to her. She finds it slightly “excessive” for little kids to have to tell jokes, but she thinks it makes sense for teenagers who are going around getting candy to have to work for it.

Next, I talked to another junior from Bellarmine University named Tabatha McNulty who grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana.

“No, I did not grow up telling jokes! When I went trick-or-treating with my cousins on Halloween we would just go up to the door and say, ‘trick or treat’ and, ‘thank you.’”

She first heard about this tradition from her college roommate.

“I honestly thought she was joking about it. Like, I’m pretty sure I just laughed and said, ‘okay’ sarcastically.”

McNulty continues, “I think it’s a really weird tradition. I don’t see how telling a joke and Halloween go together; that’s what April Fool’s is for.”

Is Halloween joke-telling actually a St. Louis tradition?

After doing some research, I came up with a better idea about where this tradition originated. Although the exact origins of Halloween joke-telling are unknown, historians have proposed theories as to where this tradition began. An article from The History Channel explains, “In Scotland and Ireland, young people took part in a tradition called guising, dressing up in costume and accepting offerings from various households. Rather than pledging to pray for the dead, they would sing a song, recite a poem, tell a joke or perform another sort of ‘trick’ before collecting their treat, which typically consisted of fruit, nuts or coins.”

To investigate this further, I took the liberty of reaching out to Fontbonne University senior, Nick Nelson, who is originally from Ayr, Scotland.

“I did grow up telling jokes on Halloween. I think it works much the same here. You go from door to door dressed up and tell a joke in return for some sweets—or candy, as you guys call it.”

Nelson says, “The rest of our traditions are pretty similar. Once you get to a certain age, you start drinking and going to parties dressed up, rather than going trick-or-treating.”

In conclusion, St. Louis isn’t alone in this Halloween celebration!

So, what do you think?

Even if you are new to this “trick,” you can “treat” yourself by learning a few Halloween jokes on your own.

So, let us know what you think.

I'm a St. Louis native currently studying Professional Writing at Fontbonne University. My special skills include baking, playing music, and dishing out sarcastic comments. If I won the lottery, I would a buy Volkswagen hippie van and a lifetime supply of Nutella and take a road trip across the country with my dog.

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