Whatever Happened to Halloween?

Another Halloween Eve– great candy in the bowl with the green hand that screams and laughs witchily, my artist daughter’s spooky decorations adorning the garage, the stairs lined with glowing luminaria… Yet, once again, the door remained silent, without the knock and giggle of a single trick or treater.  This on a street with a cooperative nursery school four houses down, and a five year old right across from me.  Every house is decorated, but what has happened to the kids?  I  know there are at least fifteen on this long block.

How disingenuous of me.

I know what happened to the kids.

I know.

We live in the hills of the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles, an otherwise very neighborhoodly area, where we all go to protests and public hearings, nursery school fundraisers and memorial walks. When the neighbors across the street got married, my neighbors next door allowed their caterers to set up gas stoves and staging in their garage. That kind of a place.

But on Halloween?  All these people take their kids down to the flat neighborhood down by the lake, where their little ghouls and goblins can easily walk from house to house, gathering the goods from strangers.

Or they even might take them over to swanky (and flat) Hancock Park,  where half the city hurries from mansion to mansion shlepping grocery bags and pillowcases for their loot. I have cousins who live in one of those old places–they say they get over a thousand kids before they run out of candy.

Not neighbor kids. Just kids who would rather collect the booty from people in mansions than walk around their own neighborhoods.

Oh, let me try to be fair.  Perhaps its easier walking, easier to slake massive juvenile greed for glucose in all its wondrous forms. (Silverlake variety) Or  perhaps their neighborhoods are truly grimy and depressing, and as this is a night of fantasy, trick or treating the mansions is their one day to legitimately knock on those stately doors and see how the 1% lives. (Hancock Park variety).

It’s also true that the neighborhoods that get the heaviest Halloween traffic tend to really do it up for the holiday–like my cousins, bowing to the inevitable, make lemonade out of it, creating haunted houses and the like.  One year, the last of my kid’s trick or treating years, even she had to try Hancock Park, just to see what it was like.  A mob scene, she reported.

The thing is, throughout my daughter’s younger life, whether she was a princess or a kitty cat or Pippi Longstocking or a Crash Test Dummy, The Statue of Liberty or Cruella DeVille or Morticia or A ‘Fifties Girl Back from the Dead, I was the old fashioned, trick-or-treat-your-own-neighborhood mom.  Even if it meant climbing stairs, climbing hills.  Even if it meant not completely filling a dumptruck with candy.

Because I remembered very well what it meant to circulate in your OWN neighborhood on that all-important night.  It meant knocking on the door of that gray house and discovering that a very nice old lady lived there.  Or the old man in the blue house who gave out full sized chocolate bars.  The people who loved to see your costumes  and wanted to show everybody what you were wearing, and laved you in compliments.  It made the neighborhood real to me.

Bulging bags of candy cannot make up for what kids are losing by trick or treating outside their own neighborhoods.  The essence of neighborhood is what they’re losing.  What we all lose.  Without that one night, I don’t meet the kids on the block, and they don’t meet me.  It’s how anonymity is born.  And the less safe the neighborhood, the more important it is that kids know who lives there, and there, and there.  To be a part of a neighborhood, rather than a stranger at a stranger’s door.

When my kid was younger, it was a tough sell with my fellow parents, to have the little witches and warlocks go a-knocking in this neighborhood.  I’d often bribe them with a party first, and then take them out as a group. But once the kids could choose for themselves, it was usually just one or two of my daughter’s best friends who would trick or treat with her up here–incidentally reaping the bounty of all those houses at which they were often the sole visitors.

But moreso, she learned who lived in all these houses–“the Pixie Stick people”, the super-decorators, the nice grandparently people in the black gingerbread house, the owners of that little dog, or that orange cat–oh, that’s where it lives.  It makes a neighborhood, and she is of this neighborhood now.  Not just growing up somewhere, anywhere, but here, in a known world.

I know I’m bucking the tide against a more and more impersonal world to ask you all to think twice before you drive kids out of your neighborhood on Halloween.  We live in a world where it’s all too easy in general to focus on stuff instead of stopping for a moment to consider the implications.  But when the Halloween booty’s gone, the neighborhood relationships we nurture live on, deepening our children’s experience of safety and connection to their world.

10 Responses to “Whatever Happened to Halloween?”

  1. We got our first trick-or-treaters in 5 years last night (a single group made up of three girls). I’ve always chalked it up to a serious lack of street lights in our area. I have taken the route of bribing neighbors to gather at our place by throwing a party, then heading out as a group (with lots of glow sticks) to nearby houses – stairs, hills and all. I’m sure once the kids are older things will shift, but for the time being I get to enjoy going around our own neighborhood

  2. I guess it’s that Greed thing again, on a micro level – More & Better Candy!!!! As opposed to walking the neighborhood and getting a peek into your neighbor’s houses, talking to the people you sometimes see on the street. Sad.

    • I think it’s up to parents to think bigger–can’t expect the kids to think of the larger picture. To them it IS the candy, if it’s not yet a tradition.

  3. Janet Clare Says:

    My son lives in upstate NY in a town called Kinderhook (really), where Halloween is truly a neighborhood affair. This is what he posted in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy and their good fortune in being spared (Julien is 6):

    Anticipating wind and downpours, the house is undecorated for Halloween. As Julien was boarding the bus for school this morning in the fair weather, he looked at the front yard and stated, “This won’t do. I want this place spooky by the time I step off the bus.”

    PS: spooky was, indeed, delivered.

  4. Kelly C Says:

    It’s good to see you blogging again! I missed your blogs.

    I grew up in suburban/country Ohio. Probably night and day from your experiences, but even in Ohio I remember parents who would do this. They would shuffle their kids into the car and take them to some of the rich neighborhoods. I would stand there in full costume talking to my little, costumed friends asking them if they wanted to trick or treat with me and they would say, “Nuh-UH! We’re going to Indian Hill or Hyde Park where they give out FULL SIZE candy bars!” Even at that young age, I think I thought to myself, “Snobs. Who are these kids thinking they are too good for OUR neighborhood?!”

    I never got the draw. Why not stay in our average, but decently-sized neighborhood and get to know your neighbors? I always thought of Halloween as a neighborhood social event. What other time could could you knock on that elusive neighbor’s door and get to see who lives there and meet them?

    I am so sorry for you and your daughter – All that hard work put in and nobody there to appreciate it? Huge bummer. I wish this post was a newspaper article and more people could read and think twice about what they do to the communities they live in when they turn their back on their neighbors. Okay, back to NaNoWriMo for me!

  5. Emory Holmes II Says:

    Yes, I agree: especially your points about that feeling of connection, and getting to know one’s neighbors — being “a part of a neighborhood, rather than a stranger at a stranger’s door” — that’s what I miss most.

  6. Teri Reis-Schmidt Says:

    When my son was of trick-or-treating age, we lived in a close-in suburb of Chicago, a suburb where city parents would drive their children on Halloween night. Following the lead of an elderly neighbor lady, I began making special Halloween goody bags for the neighbor kids, and neighboring parents did likewise. We enjoyed the visits from the “city kids” and handed out tons of treats, but we maintained our own traditions in our ‘hood, and I think our kids enjoyed the attention.

  7. carole taub Says:

    I go to my son’s neighborhood for the mere reason i come out! Recognized as the witch, i’m well prepared. All exposed skin is murky green, with blackened eyes, frizzy black wig, and a broomstick even the good witch of the east would envy.

    Practicing all year long for this event, my reward is a feast of children with honest amazement in their eyes.

    One small boy stares and stares. Doesn’t say a word. No thought of a treat. Fear and curiosity fill his eyes. Deep in character, i motion with my finger for him to step forward. He does so. And i lean down, our eyes fixed, and in my squeaky, witchy voice ask him what he wants? He hesitates, never breaking the stare, and then finally whispers, “i want, i want, i want chocolate.”

    What if all the adults joined all the children, became a character, and it became one giant feast?

  8. Thanks for giving voice to the complaint I’ve had with this. It also puts a pretty steep burden on those flat sought-after neighborhoods to shell out for thousands of strangers year after year.
    My friend now hides out at a local watering hole until the entire evening is over.

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