Thursday, November 1

A Lament for the Trick-or-Treat

The Halloween ritual of trick-or-treating is really the only American cultural event left in which we have to interact with our actual geographical neighbors, even if it is only demanding candy from behind a mask. And it looks like it may be going the way of the Christmas carolers, that is out of existence. Just like everywhere else in the country, hundreds of families drove to the Southgate mall in Missoula as an alternative to the traditional practice of walking around their own blocks. Other families took part in church events, or simply opted out. Jen and I did hand out two pieces of candy to a couple of intrepid ghosts last night, but I know others who had to eat the entire bags themselves.

The transition makes a certain degree of sense. Probably more than anything, parents claim safety concerns. While it is doubtful that Halloween has become that much more dangerous than it was in the past, it certainly is true that our threshold for caution has increased. And not being a parent myself, I'll just refrain from commenting on this. The weather is also a factor. I spoke to an elderly lady yesterday who grew up in Butte, Montana. She remembers trudging through snow in order to go from house to house in her neighborhood. She said she doesn't blame the kids these days for preferring the climate-controlled mall, but she does miss seeing all of their costumes when they used to come by her house.

And then there is just the fact that the growing lower-density developments in exurbs don't lend themselves to walking door to door anyway. Suburban development is usually not organized around facilitating socialization between neighbors. Often quite the opposite.

Halloween has also become a victim of the culture wars. Certain groups of Christians, who previously considered the holiday to be harmless spooky fun, suddenly decided that it was actually rife with sinister pagan symbolism. Tracts on the history of Halloween popped up, and parents were encouraged to find a church-based alternative. Ironically, this attitude then encourages Wiccans and other like-minded people, who previously may have shrugged off the holiday, to invest it with more significance themselves. And the cycle is perpetuated.

I don't want to pass judgment on decisions that families make (I don't even know what I would do). And there is nothing particularly inspiring about the practice of Trick-or-treating itself. Dentists have always hated it, and the old trope about bullies stealing candy surely still has some merit. In other words, I'm not holding onto the tradition out of pure sentimental impulse. However, if Trick-or-treat activity serves as a barometer for the social health of a neighborhood, it's worth noting that the practice is slowly slipping away.

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