Is Trick or Treating Endangered? On the future of Halloween's central tradition

A couple months ago I stumbled upon this article on Facebook advocating the preservation of trick or treating as a community service of sorts. If you’re in a TL;DR sort of mood (the article is actually quite short and you should read it), the crux of the article is that trick or treating as we know it is in danger of dying off as parents get more protective, more paranoid, and more susceptible to the kind of mob mentality panic driven by internet-propagated myths. You know the one about Halloween candy being poisoned? Candy apples with razor blades hidden inside? Hell, my mom used to tell me those ones. But they’re old wive’s tales. The only confirmed instances of children being harmed by tainted Halloween candy, it was their parents who did it.

The slow death of trick or treating used to be something I was very concerned about. I grew up in a semi-older sort of neighborhood, kind of middle-lower-middle class, and when I was of trick or treating age it was exactly how I imagine Halloween should be for a kid. The streets and sidewalks were hopping. Adults were hanging out in front with their garages open, handing out candy. There were home-made haunted houses. Pumpkin carving contests. Those dastardly bag-snatchers. But as I grew into the awkward teenage, “too old to trick or treat, too young to party” years, I noticed that the Halloween scene seemed to be dying out around me. Trick or treaters were starting and ending earlier, the streets didn’t seem nearly as crowded, and the legendary pumpkin carving contest had whittled down to just a handful of jack ‘o lanterns.

But now that I’m older, and have more perspective, things have given me hope. It turns out what was happening in my neighborhood was just happening to my neighborhood, because it was in decline. The young families were all spreading out into the Northern reaches of the valley and the old families who stuck around, their kids were all grown up. When my parents followed the rest of the yuppies out into the new suburbs I discovered the truth – wherever people are starting new families, THAT’S where trick or treating truly lives.

In my parents’ new neighborhood, Halloween was still kind of the way I remembered it, but on CRACK. There were so many trick or treaters, many of the little community sub-divisions would barricade off the streets and try to contain all the kids without having vehicles in the way. It was insane. Trick or treating may have become a sad, niche affair in the old neighborhood, but go where the young people are, Halloween night is like Woodstock for kids.

Where I live now is kind of a hybrid between my old neighborhood and where my parents eventually moved. It’s older, but there are also plenty of young families here, and so the trick or treating scene is pretty good. I run a garage haunt, and there are enough customers to make it worthwhile. The volume does justify a couple of Costco bags of candy. At the same time, I have noticed the hours of trick or treating seem to have taken a backslide. When I was a lad, we didn’t start until the sun was at its feet, and festivities would last until around 9, if memory serves. Now, the younger kids are starting out around 5, when the sun is still bright in the sky, and by 8 o’ clock the crowd has all but petered out.

So sure, maybe parents aren’t as easygoing today as they used to be. Our culture is becoming far more risk-averse, more doting, and more protective. The caution-to-the-wind attitude of Halloween is declining. But I think trick or treating is safe for now. I don’t see the tradition going away, especially since we also happen to be living in the age of adults with children’s hearts recreating and enhancing the things they loved as kids. Society is to the point now where it’s OK for a grown adult to indulge in the things they loved as children but in a more developed manner. And everyone who has fond memories of trick or treating as a kid can’t wait to pass that tradition on to their own children.

For me personally, I can’t wait to do the same.

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