How Halloween is Hurt with Trunk or Treat

tricktreatIt is no secret that I love Halloween. From when I was young the holiday has been a fun celebration to start the holiday season. Few other times can freaks and the imaginative come out in the open while embraced by the mainstream. Children get permission to eat candy and talk with strangers. It becomes one huge community get together no matter what religious or cultural difference exist. It is the community aspect that has recently become in danger of disappearing.

Halloween has a long and storied history. Some historians believe it started with the Romans while the most recognized origins come from the Celtic Pagans. Wherever it came from, the holiday was a symbol for the coming winter months after harvest. Today that reason has been overshadowed by ghosts, goblins, and witches brew. Perhaps pumpkins and corn mazes are among the last reminders this is a fall festival.

To be clear, trick or treating is a relatively recent invention developed in the 1940s to protect against vandals. Before then, and especially after WWI, “trick or treat” was a serious threat. Bands of roving children and adolescence would break windows, ruin property, and start fires. You were more likely to be tricked than hand out treats. The Julie Garland musical Meet Me in St. Louis has a scene that represents the more chaotic celebration with bonfires of burning furniture. The characters hurry home before getting caught in the escalations.

After WWII parties were given for children to enjoy. Adults generally stood back and participated as families. Despite the more benign celebrations, vandalism continued to be the main feature of the holiday for the next couple decades. The state of Minnesota decided to once and for all take care of the roving problem and hold a Halloween parade. Children dressed in costumes walk in the streets in an organized cavalcade along with supervising adults. Soon after, the house to house treat gathering takes over throughout the United States. Vandalism continued, such as the Detroit arsons that took place for years, but as more isolated incidents. A new era was born from the ashes of misbehavior.

Basically, the community takes over. Neighbors that otherwise would not be contacted even during Christmas have total strangers knocking on their doors. Few houses are darkened to the annual event. This has gone on for years in smaller towns while larger ones even participate. How many lifelong friendships this might have created cannot be calculated.

As so often happens, fear and gossip slowly reshapes the community closeness. News reports sweep the country that the candy is poisoned or razorblades put inside apples. Having the sweet booty put under an x-ray machine becomes common. In order to combat against the rare tragedy, there developed a sort of hybrid activity of children’s party gathering and trick or treating. Church parking lots, among other places, fill up with cars with the back ends opened up to hand out treats to the wandering children.

The new trunk or treat tradition erodes neighborhood visits. At first the adults take children to both, but that becomes increasingly time consuming. Often the parents decide between one or the other. Because there isn’t as much ground to cover, trunk or treating is preferred. Slowly doors are less knocked on and strangers once again are left mostly alone. In some areas the trunk or treat has become exclusive enough that even that has shrunk in participation, and not replaced by the traditional method.

There is no slowing down of Halloween celebrations. Haunted houses, costumes, corn mazes, and yard decorating is as strong as ever. What has changed is the mix of family and community as part of the rituals. Not that it has become extinct, but trick or treating seems to slowly be fading. Maybe this is the case of chicken and egg question where Halloween only follows what is happening in the wider culture. Individualism and adult public entertainment is superseding good clean fun. Those who might be critical of this conclusion might want to visit a costume store.

13 thoughts on “How Halloween is Hurt with Trunk or Treat

  1. I live in a small town and almost nobody goes trick or treating anymore. For us, it is trunk or treat, a school-related party and maybe trick or treating at the mall. I think trunk or treating is a reaction to the fact that almost nobody trick or treats anymore, not the other way around. So I have no problem with it, but I see your larger point Jettboy.

  2. Like I said Geoff B., it might be a chicken and egg situation where its a reflection of society changes rather than contributing to them. Part of my concern expressed here is my fond memories of a childhood similar to what is shown in the movie E.T. with the whole neighborhood getting out. Other than the town, that is what it was like for me. You met kids on the streets and had fun sometimes guessing who was behind the mask. Then there was going to houses you would never have even thought of visiting and having the double surprise of treats and the new faces. Most adults were having as much fun giving out candy and complimenting the costumes. I guess the question of this post is, what happened to community spirit that small towns can’t even be “neighborly” for one day a year?

  3. We recently lived in a large city in the Midwest, and our street got a ton of trick-or-treaters. And now, in small town Mormon corridor, we still get a lot. I haven’t seen a slow-down at all, at least not in safe, lower-middle/middle class neighborhoods. I don’t think Mormons are choosing either/or–I think they’re almost always doing both (assuming those planning the trunk-or-treat don’t actually plan it for the day of Halloween). Of course, things may be different in wealthier and poorer areas. I know apartments typically don’t get a lot of kids stopping by.

    We’ve also had some great trunk-or-treats. It’s a great way to bring the ward closer together, and a great potential member-missionary tool.

  4. Tim, great to know its still alive and well in some parts. Perhaps its only localized, because Geoff B. obviously observed the same thing. My impression watching news reports, online and offline Halloween stores, and what comes on television for entertainment is a holiday becoming more adult oriented and private.

  5. Live in the gulf south. Trick or treating still going strong. We usually do a ward trunk or treat and the kids as an easy activity, followed up by trick or treating in the commuity. As a child I was a huge fan of Halloween, and still think it’s fun. I am, however, somewhat disappointed to see people putting up Halloween decorations before they would put up Christmas decorations.

  6. I have never liked trick-or-treaters at my door, so I welcome community events where there is lots of light and less of a chance for mischief. From a food allergy perspective, because I have kids with life threatening food allergies, Halloween is a nightmare for me, with parties, treats all over the place and so on. I pray several times a day that my son makes it home safely. Our ward had the trunk-o-treat this last weekend, and it was great. Most everyone there had a peanut free treat for us, and they bought peanut free, with us in mind. I am very thankful for that, and for a fun situation that we could participate in, but in which I had some control over and knew the people and they knew us. Of course in my dream world we’d forget Halloween altogether and celebrate Thanksgiving with the Canadians in October.

  7. As a child living in a small farming town in Tennessee in the 1950′s, “Trick or Treat” wasn’t a strong tradition for us. The Halloween chaos and destruction of earlier times where teachers sat on their front porches with shotguns to protect their property was still happening. School and community “Harvest Festivals” developed to give the younger kids a chance to dress-up and win prizes. Later (’70′s and early ’80′s) my own children did participated at military post where we lived…and that was controlled very closely. I prefer celebrating ‘bring in the harvest’ by our farmers to “Trick or Treat.”
    Regretfully most people in today’s American culture haven’t a clue as to where or how their food gets to the supermarket…but again I came from a agricultural background….What a blessing!

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