Halloween: the Death of a Neighborhood Holiday

Today is Halloween. It’s Tuesday.

On Friday, my town hosted “Trunk or Treat.” On Sunday, the local public high school hosted “Track or Treat.”

I’m not expecting to see too many kids today for Trick or Treat.

And that makes me sad.

Halloween used to be a time when you’d walk around the neighborhood with your kids, meeting and greeting your neighbors, who normally spent their outdoor time in their backyards, or on their back decks, behind fences and arborvitae. If you weren’t on the sidewalk waiting for your kids to say “thank you” as they stuffed another fun-size candy bar into their pillowcase or plastic pumpkin, you were manning the candy bowl at the door, admiring cute and clever costumes and gamely accepting the middle-schoolers’ challenge to guess what their costumes were.

But as these special Halloween events have gained popularity, regular old Trick or Treat in the neighborhood has dropped off.

Luke Halloween 2003
Halloween 2003. Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

Maybe it’s because parents believe that “Trunk or Treat” is a safe alternative to making sure small children in dark-colored costumes don’t run out into the street. No cars, no streets to cross.

Maybe it’s because it’s on a weekend, at a scheduled time.

Maybe, as a young adult I was talking with at a rehearsal over the weekend maintains, it’s because people don’t want to watch their kids — and at “Trunk or Treat” and “Track or Treat” they can get in, sit down with their Starbucks and their phones, and let the kids run for it in a contained area until the event is over.

I hope it’s not the latter, but the pessimist in me thinks there’s some truth in all three of these possibilities.

All I know is: for me, Halloween is about hospitality — whether you’re greeting your neighbors as you pull the wagon down the street in case your toddler gets too tired to keep walking or  your ten-year-old’s pillowcase gets too heavy to carry, or you’re waving to your neighbors as you toss little packs of M&Ms into their kids’ toy pumpkins. Earlier this month, Caryn Rivandeneira noted the same in an article at Aleteia.

Halloween is a holiday people of any age used to be able to enjoy. If you didn’t have kids, or your kids weren’t of Trick or Treat age anymore, you could still have fun seeing kids in costumes and greeting your neighbors.

But when “Trunk or Treat” comes along, it robs the rest of the neighborhood of Halloween fun. You can only go to those things if you have kids of Trick or Treat age. If you don’t, then too bad, so sad, no Halloween fun for you.

Now that all of my kids are too old for Trick or treat, I’ll miss getting their costumes together. Hubs will miss taking them around block after long suburban block until they couldn’t walk anymore (seriously: that was his motto.) And yes, I’ll miss exacting the Mom Candy Tax.

Feed Mom Candy fund
Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

But mostly, for me, the fun of Halloween was answering the door. It made me smile.

“Trunk or Treat” just makes me sad.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Controlled Environments Don’t Build Community

trunk or treat

This fall, one of our Township Council members suggested a new-to-us event:  Trunk or Treat. It would be held during daytime hours on a weekend day just before Halloween. Children 10 and under who register ahead of time can participate.

Sounds nice, right? It did to me, too. For a while. Then I read an article in today’s paper and it got me thinking that maybe this isn’t the best idea after all.

The lede gets right up in your face about it:

Billed as a safer alternative than going door-to-door on Halloween, the township plans to host its first “Trunk or Treat” for younger children in the community. (emphasis mine)

If you’re a busy parent of young children, and especially if you work long hours outside the home, you’re going to be thrilled about the prospect of this event. Daytime trick-or-treat with no streets to cross! What’s not to like? You’re off the hook on Halloween itself, when you might be tired and the kids might be cranky after a long day at school or daycare.

If you’re the parent of older (middle-school to young adult) children, or an empty-nester, or someone without children, you might not like it so much at all.

I’m not trying to rain on the parade of the young parent, but Halloween is for everyone! Those of us who don’t have three-year-olds anymore still enjoy standing at the front door with a candy basket, handing out Hershey bars and Utz pretzels to little ones in cute costumes who sometimes forget to say “Trick or Treat!” but who are completely adorable nonetheless. Now, the Township is expecting to host 300 to 400 little kids whose parents may very well just decide not to take the kids out in the neighborhood on Halloween.

Another town councilman observed that this event brings together the community. I beg to differ. It Balkanizes the community, and frankly, we’ve got enough of that going on already. The public schools in this town, as in most towns, are no longer neighborhood schools with communities surrounding them. They’re K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and high school. Unless they have several children, parents rarely get to mix with people whose kids are of different ages than their own.

Most houses in this town have back decks rather than front porches. We’ve been here 15 years and there are neighbors within sight of our house whom we’ve never once met. That fault lies as much with us as it does with them, but Halloween is one of those times, especially when the weather is good, that brings people out into their front yards to chat with neighbors whose names they might not even know. It brings together the community.

In my household, Hubs takes the kids Trick-or-Treating while I stay home handing out the treats. He says that, by far, the best Halloween was in 2001. So soon after 9/11, not many people took their kids out on Halloween. The kids got a terrific reception at each house they visited, and their knock at the door brought smiles to the faces of the homeowners with their candy bowls. “We haven’t seen too many kids out this year,” they’d tell my husband, encouraging the kids to take a whole handful of treats.

This is a “community” in which kids as young as 8 find themselves scheduled for sports practices on Halloween. Every year, we see fewer trick-or-treaters.

And now we want to “build community” by controlling the environment. That’s a pretty narrow and exclusive community that’s being built.

I’m all about safety and I think that providing small children a way to trick-or-treat without having to remember to look both ways is a nice idea. But parents could hold the children’s hands or give them a ride in a wagon or stroller, so that the joy of the small child all decked out in a Halloween costume can be shared by everyone in the community–not just people with decorated cars and tickets to get in. All these efforts to protect a few people steal a lot of the fun away from everyone.

Think about it. And don’t rain on the whole community’s Halloween parade.

Halloween: the Aftermath

Halloween was a real bust this year. Between the drizzly, rainy weather and the World Series, we had fewer than 40 trick-or-treaters. On a Saturday, no less!

Little Brother got a ton of candy, though. He came home, spilled out his pillowcase and immediately started divvying it up. No one was here to trade with him, so he went straight into donation mode. “Mom, do you like this? Does Big Brother like this? What about Middle Sister?”

I left a bowl on the coffee table labeled “Donations Gratefully Accepted.” It’s full.

Big Brother is happy that not too many kids came here, because his friends all bailed on the plan to come and trick-or-treat in this neighborhood. He’s claiming the leftovers. (Note to Big Brother: the Milky Ways are MINE.)

There were two parents who came to my door in costume and bearing bags of candy. Really? Parents–trick-or-treating? Come on! (Yes, I gave them candy.)

I was not so kind to the three “repeaters” who showed up here. Maybe if they’d left more than a 5-minute interval between visits, I’d have forgotten them and given them a second handful of candy.

And in the middle of the day I ran out to Petsmart to load up on birdseed–it was the last day of a really good sale on the 40-lb bags. Remind me never again to go to Petsmart on Saturday. It was nuts in there. All kinds of pets, and people milling around the deeply-discounted “dog costume” display. Spare me. On my way out of the parking lot, I passed the Halloween store, where a kid walking out of the store with his mom was wearing a t-shirt that said “This IS my costume.” I hate that kind of thing; it seems so rude. Guess who showed up at my house a few hours later wanting candy?

Middle Sister went out with friends in a different neighborhood. I think she learned her lesson: many people were clearly home but didn’t open the door when they knocked. Next time, her friends can all come here.

Big relief: not too many “out-of-line” costumes this year. Even most of the older girls were dressed “cute” rather than “hooker.” I saw a lot of pirates, Star Wars characters and insect (butterfly, ladybug, caterpillar) and The Wizard of Oz was big this year too. In fact, my dentist and her entire office was dressed up in Wizard of Oz costumes. Let me tell you, it’s hard to take a dentist seriously when she’s dressed as Glinda, the Good Witch of the North.

The Mother Lode

All three of my kids trick-or-treated this year. Big Brother stuck with it to the end, despite friends who wanted to wimp out and neighbors who informed him that boys old enough to shave should stop trick-or-treating. (Personally, I think that if a bunch of teenage boys will go to the trouble of making a costume and sacrificing a perfectly good video-game opportunity to walk around the neighborhood begging for candy, then candy they shall have. They could be doing SO much worse.)

Little Brother was a bat, and I didn’t even have to have mad sewing skillz to pull that one off. However, I did sustain a glue-gun-related injury to my right thumb. Martha Stewart, I am not. But Little Brother was a happy bat and that’s all that mattered.

Middle Sister was one of the 3 Blind Mice, along with her 2 best friends. They were cute and had a fun time with the group-costume thing.

Big Brother got his costume done in the nick of time, blow-drying wet paint early Friday morning before school. I’m amazed that the Pac-Man outfit survived the day.

Best of all, my kids value clean laundry and hot dinners voluntarily shared their rejects Halloween treats with me.

Um, Danielle? Check out all the Whoppers! Yum.