What’s Wrong with Trunk-or-Treat


Warning: This blog post is going to raise some hackles. Sorry not sorry.

I’m not old-fashioned, but when it comes to traditional Trick-or-Treating being usurped by Trunk-or-Treating, I am willingly stuck in the past. Allow me to mix my holiday metaphors and show you the ghosts of Halloween past, present and future.

The Ghost of Halloween Past

Halloween in the 1970s represented an important rite of passage. I don’t recall how much candy I got when Trick-or-Treating as a child because despite my sweet tooth, the candy was secondary to the costume, the camaraderie of being out with friends, and the surging independence that thrilled in my veins every October 31.

I do remember my costumes: baseball player, pirate, and—in one uninspired year—ghost. I remember cruising the streets farther than I thought I dared, spurred on by a feisty friend but safe with my older sister. I remember how grown-up I felt as my nose tingled and cheeks burned after hours in the damp and frosty New England air. And I remember how liberated I felt being outside in the night without my parents.

Times Change

Fast forward three decades to when my daughters started Trick-or-Treating. Parents routinely ventured out with our children due to increased sensitivity to stranger danger and—at least in our small Massachusetts town—a scarcity of streetlights and sidewalks. But when my kids were old enough to watch out for speeding cars, they were on their own. I didn’t worry because they were with friends, and many other kids and parents were also wandering the rural neighborhood.

My older daughter often went to a friend’s side of town to Trick-or-Treat, which I supported. Our street was particularly dark and the houses were separated by considerable distances. I would drop her at Melissa’s knowing she had simply transferred her Halloween fun to a different location. But she still walked, knocked on doors and interacted with people while collecting her loot.

A Shift Occurs

A few years later, things started to change again. Parents started driving their kids everywhere, even to different towns, targeting the most populous areas for the largest haul of candy. Right there an important shift occurred. Let me help you get as much candy as possible with the least amount of effort because that’s the spirit of Halloween.

Kids no longer walked door-to-door. The only steps taken were to and from the car at each stop. Which was understandable, because those poor children were probably all tuckered out from lifting their enormous bags of candy.

I’m not a complete Scrooge. I do understand cars are practical if the weather is bitter cold or rainy, even though in my day (cue sentimental music), we just walked faster and ended earlier if our discomfort overrode our desire for more sugar.

The Ghost of Halloween Present

At some point in the past five or six years, adults decided to re-structure Halloween again. I learned this last week, as I passed signs for Trunk-or-Treat events in several different towns. Imagine my horror upon learning what was afoot with this bastardization of Halloweens past.

The concept, if you’re not familiar, is that adults decorate the backs of their cars, load up on candy and sit in a parking lot while the kids “trick or treat”—if you can call it that—from vehicle to vehicle.

Some savvy adults must have thought: Hey, since no one’s walking anymore, let’s make it even more convenient/fun for me. Let’s congregate in one parking lot and have the kids go trunk to trunk in a smash and grab operation thinly disguised as community togetherness.

trunk or treat
Photo by Pfc. Andrew King

I do understand that if a neighborhood is simply not safe, Trunk-or-Treat is a smart idea. Trunk-or-Treat is a fine way to make Halloween fun accessible to all, including the disabled. If Trunk-or-Treat serves as another Halloween party of sorts, that’s cool, and I realize many such events include other activities in addition to collecting candy.

But the prospect of Trunk-or-Treat replacing Trick-or-Treat has any self-respecting mummy rolling over in its grave.

Truth be told, I suspect other motivations are at play here: The adults’ desire to show off their decorating flair. Their interest in hanging with other parents instead of walking the streets. The potential to surreptitiously sip a hot toddy. In essence, the grown-ups have hijacked Halloween, turning it into a party run by adults for adults. We’ll let the kids dress up and eat candy to keep them happy.

What’s Wrong with this Picture?

There are so many things wrong with Trunk-or-Treat that I barely know where to start.

  • Adults are doing the decorating. Don’t believe me? Google photos of Trunk-or-Treat. This triggers for me a nauseating flashback to Moms doing their kindergarteners’ school projects for them. Don’t they understand that sloppy and amateur are heart-warming?
  • The kids barely walk. Taking a few steps between cars in a parking lot makes walking around a housing development or cul-de-sac look like a one-mile jog. Gone is the thrill of slowly approaching a yard festooned with tombstones and skeletons, or a house with scary music emanating from within.
  • Social interaction (for the kids) is minimized. No tentatively knocking on doors to speak with people in your community you haven’t yet met. No joy when your group’s chorus of “trick or treat” is in perfect unison. (Do kids even say “trick or treat” at a Trunk-or-Treat? And shouldn’t it be Trunk-and-Treat?)
  • Finally, it’s a parking lot. I don’t care if it’s a dirt one or paved. There are no crispy, recently fallen leaves to scuffle though, and no wet grass aroma in the air. For younger kids, there’s no need to clutch your Dad’s hand in the spooky, shadowy night. For older kids, there’s no small taste of freedom as you roam the streets with only your friends for chaperones. In short, it’s not an adventure.

The end results of this confectionary speed dating are more candy, more empty calories, less socialization and less exercise. So American.

The Ghost of Halloween Future

I can only imagine what’s next. Kids will complain: Why do we have to go all the way to a parking lot to see stupid stuff the grown-ups did to their cars? It takes me ten minutes to get my candy and then I have to stand there being bored while you talk with your friends.

The next iteration of Trick-or-Treat will be posting children at the edges of their yards like sentries, holding their bags open and waiting for the candy to come to them. Adults will drive by and drop treats into the bags.

Grown-ups still get to satisfy their creative jones and their desire to win the Coolest Parent Award. I see themed cars with costumed parents inside: maybe the car is decorated like a castle, the mother is the queen, and the father is a knight who catapults candy out of the car into the waiting bags.

Once the kids have been reduced to even smaller supporting roles, will they even like Halloween anymore? Mommmm, I don’t want to stand outside in the cold while your friends throw candy at us! It’s so lame. Can’t you just give us the money so we can buy the candy we like, instead of all these Smarties and Tootsie Rolls?

And just like that, Halloween will be as dead as the ghouls and vampires that symbolize the holiday. And parents will sit around drinking Melted Witch martinis and Bloody Punch, wondering how it all came to pass.

Photo at top by Maj. Satomi Mack-Martin

4 thoughts on “What’s Wrong with Trunk-or-Treat

  1. I couldn’t agree more! I loved Halloween as a kid – walking (yes, kids, WALKING!) house to house after dark on a crisp night, swishing through the piles of fallen leaves, warily approaching a frighteningly decorated house. I agree that there are areas where doing this isn’t safe for a variety of reasons so other options are necessary and I’m glad people have come up with safe alternatives. Where it is safe, I hope it remains. There was a special, indescribable feeling on Halloween night. It truly felt different from any other night. There was a giddy magic in the air. And this was felt BEFORE eating any of the candy so it wasn’t just a sugar rush. How sad it would be to see it disappear.

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