We all know the traditional Halloween trick-or-treat paradigm: get dressed up in your costume, grab your pillowcase or bucket, and head out down the sidewalk to knock on the doors of your neighbors who eagerly await to engage in the time old tradition of tongue-in-cheek reciprocity. Of course if you grew up in the hinterland of a small town, you start with your neighbor half a mile down the road, then go into town. You go door to door with at least one of your parents and ring the door bell. "Trick or treat!" Typically there will be a brief discussion over what your costume is and then you get some candy and say "thank you".
Trunk-or-treating is similar, but inherently different. This new alternative plays out usually in the parking lot of a church or maybe a school. Participants place candy in the trunks of their cars and the children walk around in a circle and score some candy. Parents are increasingly choosing to participate in these events for a number of reasons but most commonly because they are "safe" and "convenient". Sounds reasonable, right? Is this a win-win?
Trunk-or-treating robs today's youth (and their parents) of a number of important lessons learned by hitting their neighbors up for candy on All Hallows Eve. It perpetuates the myth that your those in your neighborhood are not to be trusted. Lenore Skenazy, author of "Free-Range Kids", states that “This reinforces the community-killing idea that kids aren’t ever safe outside the home, school, or supervised program.” Obviously there are circumstances where this true and it is not difficult to pinpoint which homes you should not visit. But by taking this tradition off Main Street you are also taking the eyes off of Main Street. Mark Saal with the Standard Examiner even makes the point that trunk-or-treating teaches children that candy can be found in strangers' trunks. Kids do not get to experience the same thrill of walking down a street and building the self-awareness of what a community should be. In other words, kids are not learning where a dentist might live (you know what I mean) or where that spooky house is around the block.
Shifting this activity from the sidewalk to a parking lot means less walking. One important aspect of Halloween is to ensure that there is at least some physical activity taking place to attempt to offset the future sugar loading into the bodies of young children. Mark Saal elaborates on this point and the "Candy per hour index (CPHI)" taking into account calories in versus calories expended from the hunt. He says that in an era of a growing childhood obesity epidemic, trunk-or-treating means that children simply walk in a short circuit to get loads of candy without breaking a sweat. It is pure profit.
Trunk-or-treating is becoming more prominent because let's face it, it is easier. Drive to one place, pick up the candy from those participating, and then go home as if Halloween is a given, as if there's no unwritten social contact about what Halloween should mean for American children. But why is it more convenient? Could it be that we are now reaping the effects of modern subdivision design. Disconnected cul-de-sacs that usually do not require sidewalks? Curvilinear street designs that exceed reasonable block lengths resulting in the perception that door-to-door would be unhealthy for a child to walk? Demographic shifts that have resulted in 'two working parent' household and neighborhood in which nobody knows each other coupled with a hypersensitive and dramatic media? Trunk-or-treating puts barriers up where it instead should be one of the few opportunities during the year to make the effort to put the eyes on the street, put pressure on demonstrating that your neighbors are not monsters, making the kids run around and earn their loot, and at the end of the day, it should have been one of the few opportunities for a child to have an imagination, interact, and internalize the community spirit we all remember.
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