When did "Trunk-or-Treating" start to catch on? Here on the south side, I first noticed these events about 5 years ago. I drove by one last weekend on a trip through McDonough. Located in a church parking lot after Sunday services, it looked like a typical fall carnival, except that the cars and trucks were parked in the middle of the festivities instead of on the outer fringes.
It got me thinking about this suburban phenomenon, what it is and what it means. "Trunk-or-Treat" events are promoted as "a safe, fun halloween alternative for families" where kids can "walk a well-lit parking lot and pick up treats from car trunks." People go all out decorating their car trunks and truck beds with fall themes. It's kind of like tailgating, but for kids.
So what exactly is "safe" about this "alternative" to old fashioned door-to-door trick-or-treating? Most trunk-or-treats are private events with a few ground rules: no demons or gore; no sex offenders or razors-loaded apples. And unlike sending your kids off to roam the public streets, there are no bad neighborhoods, no surprises. Just wholesome people who look like you.
(Here in the Bible Belt, folks have always struggled with Halloween traditions. "What are you doing for Halloween?" is asked among parents with the same strategic gravitas as one might ask, "What are you going to do about the schools?")
While Trunk-or-Treat events may have started as religious secession, they are now popping up in school parking lots, town squares, and even hospitals and car dealerships. I think this new tradition has been embraced not because it offers an alternative to heathen Halloween activities, but for more obvious reasons: walkability.
I grew up trick-or-treating in many different neighborhoods, not always my own. I guess we targeted a street based on a formula of density, convenience, and affluence to calculate its ability to provide the most free candy in the least amount of time. One year we ditched the streets altogether and went trick-or-treating at Southlake Mall.
In communities like McDonough--recently rural and rapidly transformed by suburban sprawl--traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating is nearly impossible. With houses spread out on 2 acre parcels, no sidewalks, and no street lighting, it would not only be impractical, it would be dangerous to haul your kids around begging for candy. In sprawl conditions, I agree that trunk-or-treating is "safer," but is not really an "alternative." This simulation has replaced the original Halloween ritual.
I guess we better get used to taking our kids to parking lots to collect candy from car trunks. Just another way the shape of the built environment modifies our culture.