I don’t think trick or treating is in danger of dying off any time in the foreseeable future. But if there were any credible threat to the practice right now, it would likely be Trunk or Treating.
Before I ever knew what Trunk or Treating was, I was reading posts by people on Halloween forums decrying the activity. It sounded like a weird, stupid idea that would probably end up being a temporary fad, and I’d never seen any evidence of it happening here in Phoenix. But now, that’s changed.
First, I’ll get you up to speed in case you’ve been blissfully unaware of Trunk or Treating:
Trunk or Treat is an alternative to trick or treating, where parents in a community gather in a central location, usually a parking lot or cul de sac, and stock their car trunks with candy and goodies. Kids simply go from car to car in full view of their parents to get their candy, instead of venturing out into the streets going door to door.
The practice seems to have originated in rural communities with a lot of distance between homes, where trick or treating isn’t very feasible, but it’s been adopted enthusiastically by churches and religious groups that don’t approve of Halloween itself. Lately I’ve seen a few signs near churches here advertising Trunk or Treating as a draw for their “harvest festivals”, which is their typical euphemism for the anti-Halloween parties they put on to distract kids from all the awesomeness they’re missing out on.
Trunk or Treating makes sense in those aforementioned rural communities. Some towns simply aren’t built for a good trick or treating experience, and it’s smart to create a workaround that enables kids to still dress up in costume and collect a boatload of candy. Parents often even get creative with their trunk displays, decorating their whole cars into mobile haunted house scenes, which I wholeheartedly endorse.
But the whole “Trunk or Treating as replacement for TRICK or treating” thing, I’m four square against. Here’s why:
1. Paranoia feeds it
The doom and gloom folks who think Halloween celebrations are dying off usually cite, as their number one contributor, nervous and overprotective parenting. And yes, the pearl-clutchers and hand-wringers have long been declaring their own personal war on Halloween, spreading the “razor blades in candy apples and poison chocolate” myths in the 80’s. While it’s largely churches who are driving the Trunk or Treating fad, helicopter parenting is what’s causing it to spread.
The reason this sucks for Halloween in general is because it enables parents to give in to their unfounded fear of trick or treating as a dangerous activity by giving them a safe – and horribly boring – alternative that they see as being just as good as the real thing. And it’s doubly appealing for them, because not only do they not have to let their children out of their sight, it’s far less time consuming than actual trick or treating. So it enables laziness too.
2. It makes Halloween all about candy
Trunk or Treating provides a kind of “magic bullet” solution to parents who hate Halloween (for whatever reason), and whose children feel totally screwed every year when they see the pillowcases full of candy all their friends have acquired on November 1st. When their kids start begging to be allowed to participate in trick or treating they can placate them with the candy offering and safely avoid all other Halloween-related activities.
Children young enough to be of trick or treating age may not even know it, but it’s NOT all about the candy. The candy is the tangible reward, of course, but trick or treating is about so much more than that, which I’ll detail shortly. The fear I have about the distribution of candy being the sole purpose of Trunk or Treating is that I can easily envision a scenario where parents decide it makes more sense to simply give their own children the Costco sack of candy instead of driving all the way out to the church parking lot and standing around for half an hour. And kids will have to accept it because, hey, they’re still getting a shitload of candy for nothing. And before you know it, Halloween is just Christmas for candy.
3. It kills everything great about Halloween night
Following up on my previous point, candy is just the cherry on top of everything that makes Halloween a great experience for kids. Trick or treating forges an important, strong sense of community by encouraging people to actually walk out their front doors and mingle with the neighbors. While you could argue that Trunk or Treating achieves the same effect, it limits it only to the families choosing not to participate in the real Halloween celebration. It divides people.
Communities that have good trick or treating participation have a palpable sense of unity and cooperation. Such neighborhoods are like big block parties on Halloween, the sidewalks and streets filled with people celebrating together. Kids, when they become old enough to trick or treat without supervision, always go in groups and forge better friendships and social experiences while they pound the pavement. The friends I still have today some 20-odd years later would not feel as close without the memories formed on those Halloweens way back when.
When you condense the entire Halloween experience into an hour in a parking lot, you remove the incentive for people to decorate their homes and bring a sense of cheer and celebration to the Autumn season. The more popular Trunk or Treating gets, the fewer children there are costuming up and knocking on doors. The fewer trick or treaters, the more homeowners decide not to bother handing out candy. I hate to say it, but it’s far too easy for neighborhoods – especially older ones – to suffer a snowball effect of declining Halloween activity when people stop letting their kids go out. It happened to the neighborhood I grew up in.
And so, dear reader, if you are a parent I implore you, do not give in to the Trunk or Treating craze. It may sound appealing, easy, and safe, but it’s a poor substitute for an activity that your children and your greater community need to thrive. Do the right thing. Suck it up, pound the pavement for a couple hours one night a year, and enjoy the festivities of Halloween – a positive, safe, and definitely not evil holiday.