I’ve had a sudden change of opinion on one aspect of Halloween trick-or-treating. I used to be really bothered by the families and carloads of children who would descend upon neighborhoods other than their own and demand candy. I thought of them as greedy freeloaders who were trying to exploit homeowners in ‘better’ neighborhoods to try and hog candy. I was wrong. I was judgmental. I was wrong, and I have changed my opinion on the matter.
When I was a kid, we lived in a great neighborhood for trick-or-treating. It was all hills, but the the neighborhood was populated by families with children, so everybody expected trick-or-treaters, and everybody gave out candy. The best houses were the ones with full sized candy bars. My brothers and I would run from house to house and get as much candy as we could, then we’d go home and trade. I hate peanut butter, so I was always trading my Reese’s cups for something better. It was always a fun night, no matter how cold it was, or how uncomfortable our costumes, or how much we fought over the value of a piece of candy (I always held to the nuclear option – I would destroy my own Reese’s before I would consider trading them for less than what I felt they should be worth).
My parents’ current neighborhood is one of those destination neighborhoods, where people who live nowhere near it drive to get there and go house to house. My parents love it. They are one of the full-sized candy bar houses (believe me, they were not that generous with candy when I was growing up) and they spend hundreds of dollars on candy. My parents, and sometimes my oldest nephew, sit outside and give out the candy to the hordes of children. My mom absolutely loves it and talks about it for months afterwards. I think what she likes best is how excited the kids are for full-sized candy bars, and catching the ones who try to come back for seconds. She’s had kids that switch costumes and return, and she always busts them for it. When she talks about it, I’ve always just rolled my eyes at those stupid greedy kids. My opinion was always that they shouldn’t give out that much candy, because it wasn’t fair that all those non-residents were basically stealing from them.
In my current neighborhood, nobody trick-or-treats. There are only two families with kids on my street, and not many other families in the neighborhood. My impression is that the neighborhood is mostly made up of childless young people (students and/or drug dealers) and retirees. Nobody gives out candy here. In our first year in this house, pre-Wildling, Will and I bought a bunch of candy and waited all evening for anybody, but nobody showed up. In our second year, there was a little girl and her baby brother who were visiting their non-custodial parent a few houses down from us. That was it. We gave them handfuls of candy, and ate the rest ourselves. No, that’s a lie. We ate the good stuff and Will shared the rest in the breakroom at work.
We’ve gone trick-or-treating in some friends’ neighborhoods over the years, and last year we tried a community trunk-or-treat in the parking lot of a nearby church. I liked that a lot – Wildling is, as you may expect, intimidated by crowds and can be scared easily, and once she is scared/upset, then it all breaks down for all of us. The trunk-or-treat was small-ish, there were lines, but it wasn’t scary and we could easily walk away from it when Wildling was ready to go. But the trunk-or-treat happened to take place very near the ‘destination’ neighborhood for trick-or-treaters. I bet every town has one. It’s like my parents’ neighborhood, the one where every kid from miles around gets driven there by their parents and tries to get as much candy as it is possible to carry. Some of those massive hordes saw the small trunk-or-treat event and decided they wanted even more candy, because, well, it was convenient to the prime neighborhood, and it was free. We left soon after, because it became too overwhelming for poor Wildling.
As I’ve repeatedly said, I was opposed to these greedy kids trying to get all this candy. But my mind has changed because I’ve really thought about it, and I’ve thought about it in the context of my life and with my inherent biases. I think I was opposed to it because as someone who lived in a ‘good’ neighborhood, I felt like I was one of the ‘good’ ones who should have benefited from the neighborhood’s generosity because I belonged there. These ‘others’ didn’t belong, so every piece of candy they got seemed to me like something that me and my fellow neighborhood residents should have had. It was like they were taking from me. I realize I should have outgrown that belief a long time ago, but up until three years ago, I hadn’t actually given any real thought to trick-or-treating, because it didn’t effect me.
Here’s what I realized: Those kids who come from far away to the ‘good candy’ neighborhoods aren’t greedy thieves, they’re just kids. And they’re probably kids who don’t live in safe trick-or-treatable neighborhoods. They probably live in apartments where they can’t tell if people are welcoming (can’t use the ‘only go to houses with the lights on’ trick if there are no porchlights) or maybe they live in dangerous neighborhoods where they shouldn’t be walking at night, or maybe they live in neighborhoods like ours where nobody actually participates in candy giving. And why should I judge them for wanting candy? Maybe this is the only time they get to get bags full of candy. Maybe this is the special treat they get, and if they are anything like me, they can make this candy last for months. Maybe they’re poor and at least this way their parents can let them get something special without spending money they don’t have on it. Who knows? I don’t, and it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that they are kids, and if people want to give candy to whoever rings their doorbell, then I need to stop being judgmental about it. Let kids be kids. Let them have the same fun experiences that I had growing up. Let them have one night a year when they can dress up and run around after dark and take candy from strangers.