Trunk or Treats no substitute for real Halloween fun

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Today is Halloween, at least in some communities around here.

My suburban township celebrated last Friday, and I prepared by purchasing enough candy to rot the teeth of every child in eastern Pennsylvania. Naturally, we got three groups all night.

We used to be flooded with kids, but I guess either most of them have grown up or we’re being shunned. I ended up eating way more candy than I handed out.

Luckily, my daughter’s township has trick or treat tonight on the real Halloween, which is the way I like it. So we gave all our extra candy to them and will go over there tonight to help hand it out and play with our year-old grandson, Luke, who will be dressed as Mickey Mouse.

Their neighborhood has a zillion young kids and an awesome haunted house display, so I know we’ll be a lot busier than I was last Friday.

I was saddened to see the headline on a story in The Morning Call Monday about the growing trend toward trunk-or-treating.

“Offering a safer alternative to trick-or-treating at night,” it said.

The story explained that trunk-or-treating involves decorating car trunks and filling them with candy. The kids walk from car to car, in the daylight, to get their goodies.

This particular one was at Faith Wesleyan Church in North Whitehall Township, but they have them all over. My church did one, too.

I have no problem with giving the kids extra opportunities to dress up and get candy and for adults to get together for outdoor fellowship. But since this is being billed in some circles as an alternative to real trick or treating, I have to put my two cents in.

Anything you do in some parking lot in the daytime is no substitute for the fun of going from house to house, in the dark, on the one night of the year — except around here, which I’ve never gotten used to — reserved for organized spookiness.

All these attempts to supplant trick or treating because it’s too dangerous and scary strike me as just another symptom of our determination to strip the spontaneity and fun from childhood in our quest to “protect” our children, who mostly don’t need it.

I’m not saying adults shouldn’t take the kids around when they’re little or protect them from traffic hazards if that’s an issue. I’m certainly not criticizing the people who create other fun Halloween events, including trunk or treats, parades or whatever.

But I can’t help feeling that in sports, in play and certainly in Halloween, kids often are better off doing their own thing than being organized and ordered around by grownups. Am I wrong?

By the way, I felt this way even when my kids were little. Here’s a column I wrote on the subject in 1992. It’s worth reading just for my scary Halloween story about Mr. Haines:

I am not a native of the Lehigh Valley, but I think I have adjusted very well over the years to the region’s idiosyncrasies.

For instance, I now say “ice CREAM cone” instead of “ICE cream cone.” I often use the word “once” unnecessarily in a sentence. I can distinguish between different breeds of goats. I can spell Catasauqua. I often use the word “now” unnecessarily in a sentence. I like groundhogs. I’ve done the Chicken Dance. I’m wondering why the Christmas lights aren’t up yet. I eat ring bologna. I know Jolly Joe Timmer on sight.

But there is one weird thing about the Lehigh Valley that I’ve never really gotten used to.

Trick-or-treat nights.

I’m looking here at The Morning Call’s annual list, and after all these years, I still can’t believe how meddling adults have managed to foul up a perfectly good holiday.

“Tamaqua — Trick or treat, 6-9 p.m. Oct. 29.” “Bethlehem — Trick or treat, 6-8 p.m. Oct. 30.” “Kutztown — Trick or treat, 6-9 p.m. Oct. 27 and 29.” “Walnutport — Trick or treat, 6-8 p.m. Oct. 28; rain date Oct. 29.”

Last year was even worse. I dug that list out of our files and found 17 communities that observed Halloween on Oct. 25, almost a full week before the real Halloween, which last I heard was supposed to be on Oct. 31.

When I first moved in here, I kept missing Halloween because I expected it to be on, well, Halloween. Now that I have kids myself, I’ve long since figured out that the municipality where I live has trick-or-treat on the Friday before Halloween.

What I still don’t understand is why.

I know there are safety concerns, but I don’t see why kids are any safer on a Friday than on a Tuesday, for instance. Halloween even falls on a Saturday this year, but even so, only about a third of the municipalities will be trick-or-treating on Oct. 31.

I blame it on: 1) the devaluation of almost all our holidays, most of which have been reduced to generic three-day weekends 2) the proven fact that adults can’t resist interfering in kids’ fun. I read a story about how fundamentalist religious groups actually want to ban Halloween altogether.

Lighten up, guys. It’s bad enough that kids have to put up with screaming Vince Lombardi wannabe pee-wee coaches, liability insurance paranoia, skateboard bans and a variety of other adult-imposed barriers to having fun.

For kids like me with an overactive imagination, the prospect of vampires, witches, werewolves, etc., roaming around on All Hallow’s Eve was a big part of the thrill. We could dress up any time, but there was only one Halloween.

The grown-ups even got into the spirit of things. One year we staged a haunted house in the home of our neighbors, the Haineses, and the first customer tripped in the dark and broke the leg off their coffee table. Mr. Haines, noted for his volatile temper, went berserk — pulling out an ax and chopping the table to bits in his backyard. This was much scarier than anything we had planned.

Kids in the Slate Belt seem to be the worst off around here, because many of those communities have trick-or-treat in the daylight, when you can’t even light up a jack-o’-lantern, on the Sunday before Halloween. I can’t imagine anything scary about a Sunday afternoon, except the last few Eagles’ games.

Wind Gap had trick-or-treat from 1:30 to 3 last Sunday, and I called Mayor Tom Bavaria last week to ask why. “It’s traditional, ” he said, “because we like to structure it a little bit.” He said parents don’t want the kids out at night, when dark costumes might make it difficult for motorists to see them. Afterward, the youngsters go to the fire company for judging of their costumes and get some goodies. “That’s our traditional Halloween in Wind Gap, ” he said.



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