Recently, on a website I frequent, there was a discussion of Halloween plans. There I first encountered the concept of “trunk-or-treat,” a Halloween event that is apparently gaining popularity across the country. People dress their kids up in costumes, pack candy in their cars, and go to a predesignated parking lot. There the children run from car to car, collecting candy.
Call me a fossil – as I write this, I’m just under a week away from my 51st birthday – but this seems entirely wrong-headed to me. It takes all the spooky fun and all the exercise out of trick-or-treating, while leaving all the sugar. Indeed, it reinforces the idea that the best thing, the most important thing, the most fun thing about Halloween is the candy.
Yeah, yeah, all of you twenty and thirty-something are rolling your eyes at yet another old person saying, “When I was your age…” Please, bear with me. My best, my brightest Halloween memories do not have to do with candy, although I was certainly a little sugar-junkie. They have to do with the excitement of being out after dark, running door-to-door, fallen leaves crackling underfoot, seeing the Halloween decorations at each house, ringing doorbells, shouting “TRICK OR TREAT!” the repeated ooooooh-ing and aaaaaaah-ing over our costumes.
“But, Dana,” you protest, “it’s a different world. It’s too dangerous to let our kids do that.” Actually, according to the reports I’ve read, there is no more crime against children today than there was in my childhood. It’s the reporting of crime, and therefore the perception of crime, that has drastically increased. How about poisoned candy? Ignoring entirely that the candy itself is poison, Snopes.com reports that not a single case of Halloween candy poisoning has been verified. And what’s to keep some madman from bringing poisoned candy to trunk-or-treat?
None of this reassurance matters a whit if no one in your neighborhood participates in trick-or-treat anymore. No use sending your little goblins to houses where no one is prepared.
“Well, geez, then, Dana, why’d you bring it up?” Because it’s clear that Halloween traditions in this country are shifting, and have yet to settle on a new form. This means you have input into what the new traditions will be. I’m hoping I can encourage you in a direction other than “trunk-or-treat.”
My vote would be a return to the Halloween party, with spooky games and music, and at least some non-candy foods. Read ghost stories by firelight. Bob for apples. Carve jack-o-lanterns. Have a scary laugh contest, and a costume judging. (With lots of prizes – scariest, prettiest, funniest, most creative, etc. The more kids get prizes, the better.) If you have space, how about creating a haunted “house” in your backyard? (I have a big backyard with a path through the woods that would be perfect for this. Alas, I have no children.) The drawback to this is that private parties are invitation-only events, and some kids could get left out. This is a great reason for organizations, from scout troops to neighborhood associations, to create their own “everybody welcome” Halloween events.
If you’re still in a trick-or-treat part of the country, may I make a few gentle suggestions?
- Focus as much attention as you can on the many fun and creative Halloween activities that don’t involve sugar. Help your kids make their own costumes. Decorate your house. Make styrofoam tombstones with funny epitaphs for the front lawn. (We did this; it’s super-easy.) Go to the library and take out a recording of haunted house sounds. Watch some spooky movies, with an eye to the movie’s scare/violence level and your kids’ ages, of course. Make the fun about something more than sugar.
- Consider handing out something other than candy. My sister, a teacher, has been known to buy little prizes in bulk at the teachers’ supply store to hand out for trick-or-treat; she reports the kids like them. Handfuls of pennies have been reported to go over well. So have individual packets of peanuts. Back when I lived in a trick-or-treating neighborhood (out here in the country I’ve never seen a single trick-or-treater – too few houses with too much space between ’em) I would let kids grab a double handful from a basket of peanuts in the shell. Believe it or not, kids generally exclaimed “Oooh, peanuts!,” not “Hey, lady, where’s the candy?” Do not do what Dr. Sinclair, my childhood dentist and next door neighbor, did, and hand out toothbrushes. A sure way to get egged and TPed, both.
- If you do give out candy, buy candy you don’t care for. Don’t get your own particular kryptonite. For instance, if I were giving out candy (fat chance!) I’d consider Twizzlers, Chuckles, or candy corn, none of which I’ve ever liked. This way you’re far less likely to binge between trick-or-treaters.
- If you foolishly insist on buying your own favorite candy for trick-or-treat, buy the minimum you can get away with. I’ve known plenty of moms to give in to a candy binge as a consequence of “Oh, I have to make sure I have enough!” – leading to bags and bags of leftover Snickers bars. If you do wind up with leftover candy, take it to work and leave it in the break room.
- Lay in a modest stash of sugar-free candy. I generally have both sugar-free Reese’s and sugar-free Hershey’s Dark miniatures in the house. Having your own treats will help keep you away from the kids’ goody bags. The laxative qualities of sugar-free candy will prevent your pigging out on it!
- If you’re concerned about your kids’ sugar intake – and you should be – consider having a talk with them in advance about some sort of strategy to minimize damage. Perhaps you could have them choose their five or ten favorite kinds of candy; anything not on that list goes in the trash. Maybe you could freeze most of their haul and dole it out over the winter, piece by piece. But please don’t let them simply devour it all over a few days’ time.
And have a super-fun and spooky Halloween!
© 2009 by Dana Carpender. Used by kind permission of the tricky and treaty author. What do you think? Please send Dana your comments to Dana Carpender.