Commentary: Ghouls just wanna have fun — so let’s ditch ‘Trunk or Treat’

Halloween is awesome because nothing is off limits. Wanna build a makeshift graveyard? No big deal! What about spend a ton of time on a realistic house that leaves the local kids terrified? Local hero status.

What Halloween represents is that for one time of year you can be as strange as you want and everyone is totally cool with it. Neighborhoods bond over who’s got the craziest looking yard or which house gives away full-size candy bars. Traditions matter during the Halloween. Knowing to avoid the house with the old lady who gives away pennies is invaluable knowledge that can only be passed down by experience.

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Halloween is a connective tissue for neighborhoods. Every other holiday is centered around familial traditions. We spend Christmas opening presents and then ushered off to eat meals with extended family. The same concept goes for Thanksgiving and Easter – centered around family and food. Not Halloween, though. Halloween is about getting weird.

On Oct. 31, we stalk from door to door dressed in costume. We may not engage with our neighbors more than a passing “trick or treat” but we’re psychologically communicating beyond a wave between baseball practice or running to pick up the pizza.

Halloween celebrates the identity. For one night, we’re allowed to be whatever version of ourselves we desire. We can hide behind a rubber gorilla mask and move silently. For one night, the docile can display their bodies in an act of social rebellion. For one day, fantasy shines. It doesn’t matter because Halloween is inclusive — everyone can join. Religion, affiliation or status doesn’t matter.

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But, there’s a scourge of milquetoast blandness that works against the very spirit of Halloween: Trunk or Treat.

Trunk or Treat is a newer phenomenon. It’s an event held on or around Halloween where instead of going door to door, people set up shop with themed displays centered around the trunks of their cars in a designated parking lot. Yes, a parking lot.

Trunk or Treat is a “safe” way for kids to get their candy. Safe in context of what? This is Austin. Our crime rate is laughable. There aren’t serial murders creeping every corner. The worst case, you’ll get organic peanut butter cups and a Lone Star tallboy. The razor blade in the candy is a myth. Stop buying into fear. Halloween is held at night, it’s meant to be a little scary, a little off-putting — that’s the spirit and identity of the event.

If you live in the middle of nowhere and your nearest neighbor is a mile away, Trunk or Treat makes sense. It’s an easy way for your kids to feel connected to their environment, since they don’t live on a block lined with houses. For the rest of you, stop it. Trunk or Treat is an exercise of sheer mental and emotional fragility. Trunk or Treat is the helicopter parenting or winning an award for just being there of Halloween. Parents who get psyched about Trunk or Treating are the same ones who gives out apple slices or dress their kids like Raggedy Ann or a matching ketchup and mustard bottles.

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We look over our shoulder for just about everything; don’t let Halloween become the latest victim. Celebrate your neighborhood. Dress up your yard. Meet your neighbors. Because we’re in such a hyperpolarized time, this is crucial. We see folks putting up yard signs for their candidates, and we groan because we don’t like the choice. Trick or Treating is one small way to remember that the sign isn’t indicative of the household — people live there. People you should know by name or at least what kind of candy they give out.

Dean is a writer and journalist in Austin.

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