Monday, October 26, 2009


With Halloween less than one week away, the young ones in Davis are likely feeling the anticipation of trick-or-treating, candy eating, and costume wearing. Davis is perfect for trick-or-treating because we have block after block of closely situated houses, the streets are flat, and the neighborhoods are relatively safe. This got me to thinking - do children in rural areas trick-or-treat?

After some searching, I found several interesting blogs and websites devoted to "trunk-or-treating". Notably, a message board in Hamlin, Pennsylvania, discussed the "tradition" of what is called "trunk-or-treating." Started by parents many years ago and now taken over by the county recreation department, parents take their children and meet in a large parking lot in a central area of the county. The instructions are to bring enough candy for 200-300 children, decorate your vehicles, and distribute the candy from the trunk of your car. Kids walk from trunk to trunk in the same manner that a child in an urban or suburban neighborhood would walk from house to house. According to one parent, "This is a great solution for kids from rural areas that don't have an actual 'walkable town' to go trick-or-treating in."

In the same online discussion, another parent chastised the idea of trunk-or-treating, saying:
That's unreal. I'm sure when it first started, it was a terrific idea...but how do you really feel about the anonymity? My kids can remember which house they got a certain piece of candy from, which is helpful, in case the "razor blade in the apple" thing ever does happen...because I don't think they could distinguish one trunk from from another.
Another parent reflected on how lucky she felt to be "living in an established community with sidewalks, neighbors, etc."

However, trunk-or-treating (photo taken by Robert Stolarik for The New York Times) seems to be popular in rural areas. A New York Times article dubbed this ritual "Halloween Tailgating," and reports on trunk-or-treating in Garrison, New York, a small hamlet in Philipstown, New York. The author writes, "Trunk-or-treating solves the rural conundrum in which homes built a half-mile apart make the simple act of ringing doorbells require some physical fortitude." In the same article, a parent comments that trunk-or-treating is a way to celebrate Halloween without families having to risk getting lost in the country. Trunk-or-treating is a community event and brings families together for a night of fun. Apparently small towns have been celebrating Halloween this way for decades, including small towns like Graeagle, California.

Putting this in perspective, today described the best way to go trick-or-treating in New York City. eHow suggests going to apartment buildings in "safe" neighborhoods and going door-to-door in the apartment; trick-or-treat at delis, grocery, or other stores and shops; drive or take the subway outside of Manhattan; trick-or-treat before it gets dark (if possible).

It's fascinating that different communities can have completely opposite holiday traditions. A child in a rural area may never experience trick-or-treating door to door because it simply isn't possible. Seemingly, the way a resident experiences "community" in one setting is different than the other. In rural areas, parents, schools, and Parks & Recs have to come together to organize something like trunk-or-treating so their children can experience Halloween as best they can. This probably also facilitates knowing your neighbors. In Davis, for example, trick-or-treating in no way requires knowing who your neighbors are, whereas in a rural area, families must come together, communicate, and make an effort to coordinate with others. In terms of trick-or-treating, place certainly does matter.


Slice of Pink said...

Although I lived in a town where door-to-door trick and treating was certainly possible, a few churches in the area provided Trunk-or-Treat options for their membership. The churches felt that Trunk-or-Treating was safer than the traditional door-to-door method of candy gathering, precisely because everybody would know everybody in the parking lot. Unlike the parent who chastised the idea of trunk-or-treating, the churches thought the method was less anonymous.

In any event, the concept makes a lot of sense in rural places, where walking from house to house would take a great deal of time (and might result in less loot for the kids!).

I have also heard of downtown businesses working together to create a business-to-business walk for children to collect bags of candy. Rural places with a main street dedicated to small businesses could allow children to participate in Halloween fun this way, as well.

LT said...

Wow, I'd never heard of trunk-or-treating before! And admittedly, I'd honestly never really considered how rural children trick-or-treat. Growing up in suburbia, I guess I really took door-to-door trick-or-treating for granted.

I think trunk-or-treating is a great way for rural kids to participate in some Halloween traditions! I totally disagree with the comment from the parent concerned about the anonymity of the trunks the candy is coming from. I don't think the anonymity of trunk-or-treating is any worse than the anonymity of door-to-door neighborhood trick-or-treating. For me at least, and I think for a lot of kids as well, the thrill of trick-or-treating was in the conquest, not the treasure. I hardly even looked at what people dumped into my candy bucket - it was just fun to go to as many houses as possible. I definitely didn't know which candy came from which house, so for me, trunk-or-treating and trick-or-treating would be equally anonymous.

Yooli said...

What an interesting post! Reading this, it immediately made me think about "rural" fall traditions that have been adopted in urban/suburban areas because they are more "wholesome" or "community-building" - like a pumpkin patch, hay-rides, fall festivals, etc. I doubt people in rural/suburban areas ever about these social gatherings being dangerous or threatening.

But apply an urban/suburban tradition like trick-or-treating to a rural setting and now there's chatter. I think the parent's comment is interesting because they are projecting "urban" fears onto rural inhabitants that may not face the same problems or fears when it comes to their children. Urban parents I think universally tell their children to never get in a stranger's car or take candy from a stranger and I think somehow trunk-or-treat evokes fears about both scenarios. Child abduction is serious issue in urban areas, where its so easy to be anonymous, so I can see how in this context, trunk-or-treating fears might be understandble.

But here, we're allowing rural children to partake in a more "urban" tradition in a way that makes sense for a rural place. Its not any different than the harvest festivals or hay ride concepts. We live in a rural place, its hard to socialize, so let's all come together at a certain place and time so that it makes sense for us. There are obviously fears that rural parents have about their children's safety too, but I don't know if those fears are the same as those urban parents have. Thus, I think that parent's fear about "anonymity" in a trunk-or-treat scenario could be misplaced in a rural context.