A new endangered species: the Halloween trick-or-treater

Schools, churches, and other groups are increasingly offering children alternative and safer places to trick-or-treat

By Rachel Hooper
As a child, my Halloweens were always a rush of anticipation and excitement. I have warm memories of elementary school and of the students and teachers dressing up in their costumes for the Halloween parade. A local police officer from the D.A.R.E program gave us safety tips and taught us the dangers of trick-or-treating. We learned to always check all the candy when we got home, first dumping it all out to make sure that every piece was properly wrapped and to discard anything suspicious or unwrapped.
Undeterred, I looked forward to Halloween night when the real fun began. We went from house to house, fervently trying to cover as many streets in our neighborhood as we could. Our costumes were usually put together from things we already had in the house, and our goal was to fill our pillow-cases with a haul of candy. My favorite memory of Halloween was the anticipation of going out with my older cousin. As a teenager, she always seemed to have a strategy to get more candy. Yet, surely it’s more than candy that makes trick-or-treating the special event which kids look forward to and adults remember fondly. I have always loved Halloween and trick or treating and I wonder, what part of the tradition has stayed the same over the years and how much longer can it survive?
Most people older than me share memories of inexpensive or homemade costumes and the anticipation of going out on the streets at night. McDaniel faculty member Vincent Kohl describes trick-or-treating in his apartment complex. “We would wear costumes and carry trick-or-treat bags. We would make a lot of noise running up and down the staircases,” Kohl said. “Safety was not a concern when I was a kid, but now it is.”
What did he do for costumes? Kohl said, “Pirate outfits, a black cape for Dracula…we’d get them at the dime store…they weren’t expensive.”
Sophomore Courtney Proudlock recalls “Our mom would make really decorative dresses, like one year I was a bride, one year I was a princess.” She has a childhood memory of being frightened. She described, “This man came up and he had a chain saw; obviously it didn’t have blades…I freaked out and was hysterically crying because I didn’t know it wasn’t real.” Christine Derencz, graduate student and office manager of SASS, recalls going with her friends throughout the neighborhood. “As far back as I can remember we went trick or treating. I always lived in neighborhoods with a lot of kids so…when we got to an age where we could, we would go by ourselves,” Derencz said. “When I was little it was a lot more innocent. You didn’t have to worry so much.”
Halloween for kids today is somewhat different from when I was a little girl and from what it was 20 to 30 years ago. The innocence of Halloween trick-or-treating has changed, yet much of the meaning and value of Halloween still survives, such as family and friend time. It’s just fun to have a good time together dressing up in costumes.
I had the opportunity to talk with elementary schoolers from the Westminster area about what they do for trick-or-treating. Second-grader Casey Rowe from William Winchester Elementary said that he enjoys Halloween because “I get to spend time with my grandmother and its out in the dark and I just get to spend time with my family.”
I found that the biggest difference in trick-or-treating now is the awareness of safety regulations; most kids now do not go out without a parent. Victoria Nefflen, a fourth grader at William Winchester Elementary, said that she goes with her parents and two sisters. “I don’t go by myself trick-or-treating because sometimes they think that like somebody could dress up in a costume and like steal me.”
Rowe added, “With my parents, they like choose what houses I should go to.”
Nowadays elementary schools still have Halloween events; that part has not changed. Nefflen said, “We go to the middle school and we play bingo and have a pumpkin decorating contest.” She said that she usually buys her costumes, and her two younger sisters usually wear hand-me-down costumes.
Second-grader Tanner Roche from Faith Christian School said that he buys his costume and this year he’s trying to decide between the Dementor from Harry Potter or the Grim Reaper.
Do kids ever have a scary time? Nefflen said, “Well there was one time when [this guy] shut his door and there was like bats and spiders coming down and all of the kids started screaming. When he closed the door it like dropped on us, and we thought they were real at first.”
I found that the dangers of unwrapped candy are still a concern. I asked Casey Rowe if he checks that his candy is wrapped before he eats it. He said, “I check it, because I’m going to strangers’ houses. I want to check if they’re kidding or not kidding”
Many schools, churches, and other groups are increasingly offering children alternative and safer places to trick or treat. Even McDaniel College has trick-or-treaters come door to door in campus dorms. I believe that in many communities, parents and concerned adults will supervise or adapt trick-or-treating to enable the quest for candy and family fun to continue. Halloween is just too much fun, so one can be confident that the trick-or-treater will survive.