I was in fourth grade the first time I read Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree, a novel that takes a group of kids on a swirling adventure through space and time to find and save a friend during the spookiest of nights. It told, like many of the books I read then, a story bigger than my young mind could fully grasp. Even then, though, I could tell Bradbury’s craft was something mystical and enchanting, even if I didn’t quite know I wasn’t seeing all there was to see.
A couple years later, my friends and I watched movies like Candyman, Troll I and Troll II (NOT the Trolls movies you’re thinking of) during sleepovers at my house, and my poor parents put up with us chanting at midnight “Candyman, Candyman” in the bathroom mirror next to their bedroom a couple times before screaming and retreating to the basement, over and over.
Bless them, my parents, for letting me read whatever I wanted and for renting movies with creepy sleeves they couldn’t be bothered to read. And bless them, for driving me through snow drifts and for miles to get an orange plastic pumpkin’s worth of Halloween candy. Homemade popcorn balls, homemade caramels and other homemade oddities from the “neighbors” we lived miles apart from in rural, rural Nebraska were still safe back then, in those halcyon Children of the Corn days. They allowed spooky season to be all that it could be, enough to scare me within healthy limits and feel fearless (for better or worse) as I grew older and had to confront real fears.
Thirty+ years later, I am now an adult and parent, and I’ve gone trick-or-treating with my four-year-old twice, if we name the real act of trick-or-treating as such. His first year was a simple Trunk-or-Treat, the carefully curated events where people stand by a car trunk full of candy and hand you one piece in the setting glow of the sun. That was not trick or treating.
His second year was a walk down main street, also a fun but sterile and crowded Trunk-or-Treat. Years three and four have been actual walk around the block trick-or-treating. And he has loved it. This year he dressed up as a “skeleton swamp zombie,” and he made the whole mile loop without getting too cold.
I liked Trunk or Treat during year one, when he couldn’t do anything by drool, and during year two it was fun to see him waddling around in his dinosaur costume in broad daylight. Last year, his first year of trying to remember to say “Trick or treat” dressed as Tigger, was super cute.
This year, Trunk or Treat took over the rural Minnesota town I live outside of, and there were hardly any other kids out on the street. The people sharing their candy and some laughs with us (and even a couple of adult beverages!) commented on how they received few kiddos. In the online mom groups I’m part of (can you believe it?), so many moms commented on how much they loved the expansion of Trunk or Treat this year, how safe and organized and clean it was.
And this demise of trick or treating and the rise of the Trunk or Treat has made me sad. Little kids aren’t going to get the exposure, the spookiness, the slight chills of encountering someone dressed in a costume on the street in the dark on this night once trick or treating proper goes away. Are we a society so afraid of things that go bump in the night that we’re losing any ability we had to be safely curious about those bumps?
As Bradbury showed us (time and again), as any good horror movie illuminates for us, fear plays a role in shaping us, our societies and our points in time. I understand that this particular point in time IS a scary one in so many real, heavy ways. And maybe I’m just old, approaching 40. But the fear I’m worried about is that we’ll become so untrusting and so weary of our neighbors that we won’t engage in a tradition that has often allowed us to look at something other than, at something scary, and things misshapen and odd in an appreciative way and now see them instead as yet more bogeymen from which we need to protect our children.