Wandering the neighborhood collecting candy is the crux of the classic American Halloween celebration. We all know about the trick-or-treating tradition, but an alternative Halloween activity has been gaining popularity, and it’s called “trunk-or-treat.” Rather than going house to house in costume, this milder event has children simply taking sweets from decorated car trunks in a parking lot. And as a big fan of Halloween, I think that’s sad. In fact, I absolutely hate trunk-or-treat.
If you went door-to-door as a kid (and you probably did), you might remember the effort it took to procure a full pillowcase. How many houses did you have to hit up to achieve Halloween satisfaction? At trunk-or-treat, it’s a quick jaunt between rows of cars to come up with copious amounts of candy. No effort necessary on the kids’ behalf. As childhood seems to get more and more passive, this doesn’t sit well with me. Rather than playing outdoors with neighbors, more and more children sit inside staring at screens on a daily basis. Now you want them to skip the sidewalks entirely and just make a quick loop through a parking lot? Hard pass.
The trunk-or-treat origin story is actually a Christian one. The event began in the late 1990s when churches wanted to provide a safer, less “evil” alternative to traditional Halloween activities like trick-or-treating, Halloween historian Lesley Bannatyne told NPR. Many churches don’t approve of the devilish Halloween celebration, Bannatyne continued, so in order to make the holiday more palatable, they watered it down. And thus began the idea of collecting candy from decorated car trunks in daylight.
Perhaps it’s the pagan in me, but I relish the spooky elements of our beloved October holiday, as do my kids. The pageantry of the costumes, the fantasy of ghost stories and witch myths and the slight shiver of fear that comes with wandering around in the dark (or at least the dusk, for younger kids). Removing that small element of fright — however imagined — sucks the magic out of Halloween. And kids have so little magic these days, and childhood is so fleeting. Can’t they at least have trick-or-treating?
I accept that some neighborhoods actually shouldn't or can't have trick-or-treating. Churches aren’t the only ones hosting trunk-or-treat now, and it's not just because of spooky Halloween imagery and religious beliefs. Clubs, schools and other organizations are offering car-based candy collection as a safer alternative to trick-or-treating, and in crime-ridden areas, trunk-or-treat can be a real boon to the community. It’s awful that street crime can prevent kids from visiting their neighbors, and trunk-or-treat is a great way to let them celebrate in a safer space.
But of course, it's not just crime that prevents kids from knowing their neighbors. As community increasingly moves online, we’re less likely to socialize locally. Roaming the local streets to show off costumes and request candy is just one evening, but that's one more opportunity for actual, IRL contact with our community.
On this spirited evening, we decorate our yards or doors, fill a bowl with candy and just have fun with each other. Whether greeting kids and complimenting costume choices as we toss treats into bags or escorting little ones from door-to-door, Halloween is a special night to mingle and rally around our children in their quest for candy and magic.
So, yes, my husband and I will take our kids out in the dark to wander the streets this Oct. 31. And if previous years are any indication, the kids will shriek with delight, race to join friends and work up the courage to knock on doors. And when we come home, they'll trade candy and gorge on sugar to their little devilish hearts’ delight. (After paying the parental candy “tax” of course.) And like every year, they’ll restart the countdown until next Halloween.