Ottawa·Audio

Esprit de corpse? Canadian puts French village through Halloween bootcamp

Jeremy Mercer says getting children in the village of Saint Maime in the south of France motivated to trick or treat last Halloween was easy enough. Getting them to trick or treat properly, however, was another matter.

Jeremy Mercer says trick or treaters learning to stagger departure times to avoid scaring homeowners

Jeremy Mercer says getting children in the village of Saint Maime in the south of France motivated to trick or treat last Halloween was easy enough. Getting them to trick or treat properly, however, was another matter.

"They moved as one pack from house to house," recalls the Canadian author and journalist, who moved from Ottawa and quickly discovered the spooky North American tradition had not taken hold in his new locale.

"You had this seething mass of [40] kids chanting 'Les bonbons! Les bonbons!'" he told CBC Radio's All in a Day. The result, said Mercer, was more frightening for the homeowners who had agreed to participate.

Despite that, Mercer — himself an avid enthusiast of the holiday — said the reaction from the community was positive, so this year he has organized three separate departure points and said the departure times of the children will be staggered.

Mercer said over the last three weeks he's been able to train the children on the proper etiquette.

"We're on track for better trick or treating," he said.

Mercer said the late-night festivities have been successful in part because La Toussaint — or All Saints' Day — on Nov. 1 is a public holiday in France. But while Halloween was introduced to the country decades earlier, it's been slow to catch on.

That's why he says he's keeping it simple.

"Canada has room for ironic costumes… but here we have to be just straight up vampire, ghost, monster," he said.

"Maybe year-four or year-five we'll get ironic with the 'cereal killer' stabbing a box of cereal, that sort of thing, but for now we just want [to] stay on message," he said.