November 1, 2010

How many trick-or-treaters?

Jesus, what a pathetic showing. Saturday it rained hard late afternoon and early evening, so that explains why we didn't get any then. But we didn't get any at night either, despite it being Saturday night with no school the next day. Tonight we got exactly one, a little girl, or maybe two if you count her 2 year-old brother being escorted via stroller by their parents. How castrated has this society become when a kindergarten girl has more guts than males of any trick-or-treating age?

I even got somewhat dressed up and waited for them outside, so it's not as though there were a lot of them who for some reason didn't approach our house. I only saw one trick-or-treater making the rounds on the other side of the street, and again it was a tiny little girl. Hey Millennial boys -- grab your sack and go trolling for some candy. You might become a man yet, but not the way things have been going.

At least I brought a book and got some reading done. I sat out there from 7 to 8:30 and retired after that; no one knocked after I headed inside.

You know, I didn't even see any teenagers out pressing their luck to get some free sweets, let alone egging the houses of their enemies from school, let alone toilet-papering anyone's house. I know they wear costumes and go to parties, but being huddled around a game of beer pong, with everyone but the two players being bored out of their minds, is no replacement for the thrill of "TP-ing" or "wrapping" someone's house, as they used to say back when adolescents still acted wild.

I got all pumped up a couple weeks ago when I heard a toddler in the row behind me on a plane reciting the classic "Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat," despite his mom telling him to stop. Elsewhere on this blog I've covered the theme of children not knowing most of these subversive and gross-out songs and folklore (like when was the last time you heard 1st graders singing "99 bottles of beer on the wall"?). So I was thankful to hear at least one little booger keeping the tradition alive -- though he did leave out the killer concluding line of "If you don't, I don't care -- I'll pull down your underwear!"

But that (tempered) enthusiasm isn't translating into behavior. I know Halloween's been dying at least since I kept informal track of it while passing out candy in high school (mid-late '90s), but to only see two kids out just blew my mind. And of course both had their parents not just there but literally hovering over their shoulder the whole time, but you take what you can get. I guess their older siblings are too shackled to their Xbox 360 or Facebook chat window to escort their little brothers and sisters, a truly disgusting abdication of the "cool older brother/sister" role. (That was still going as of 1995, judging from the Halloween episode of My So-Called Life.) Is that what the anti-addiction ads of 2020 will look like? -- a parent discovers that his son is a loser who makes video games a part-time job, only to be told "I learned it from watching YOU, Dad!"

Both families were blue-collar, by the way. I can't begin to imagine how dead trick-or-treating must be in lacrosse-and-SAT-tutoring neighborhoods. Working-class parents know that their kids will face a more dangerous world, so they don't try to insulate them as much while they're growing up -- they've got to learn a certain amount of toughness. Although hovering, the little girl's parents didn't fetch the candy for her -- they at least prodded her to work up the guts to approach a zombie stranger and say "trick or treat."

Since kids these days are so damn coddled, I made sure to give her a little scare and said, "Trick or treat? Hmmm, I don't know which one... have you been bad or good?" I was going to give her two of each candy no matter what she said, either rewarding her for not blowing society up or for having some rambunctious fun every once in awhile. The point was just to throw her a curveball and show her that the social real world isn't so simple to navigate. Yeah yeah, I know, like she'll really turn out different, but you never know, and I'm certainly not going to be part of the wussification problem.

So many people whine about "the commercialization of ____" -- Halloween, Christmas, etc. -- but I'll take that any day. At least it shows that most people still care about it, or else the sellers' pleading would fall on deaf ears. Cynical hack moralists love taking this route, especially in the form of documentary movies, but as usual they're clueless. In popular culture, the portrayal that's closest to reality is a fantasy -- The Neverending Story, where cultures are swallowed up by their own apathy, by the Nothing. The Grinches and Scrooges can only sink a holiday when its one-time celebraters have stopped giving a shit about it anymore.


  1. Halloween was deader than dead this year. Although we are in a densely populated suburban/exurban neighborhood with a reasonably number of children, it was a Sunday, and the weather was decent enough, we had a grand total of six trick-or-treaters. Prior years were considerably busier, so it's not like this was the culmination of a long-term trend. I have no explanation for what happened.


  2. I had a great turnout in my neighborhood, with about 35 to 40 kids coming up to my door. The peak period was from 7:30 to 8:30, with the last trick-or-treater arriving at 9:15.

  3. I noticed the same thing. We had a large number of trick or treaters last year, so many that I nearly ran out of candy. So, this year we bought more than last year, and had a lot fewer kids show up at the door. I don't why there was such a difference between last year and this year. Maybe because last year's Halloween was on Saturday night and this year's was on Sunday, a school night. This is the only explanation I can think of.

  4. lemmy caution11/1/10, 4:22 PM

    Neighborhoods cycle in the number of kids. New neighborhoods have a lot of kids. The kids grow up and there are few kids. The parents die off and kids move in again.

    Not all streets are as popular either. It is more fun and the kids get more candy at the popular streets. Less popular streets are frustrating for the candy givers who have to wait around. This leads to a vicious cycle where less popular streets become less and less inviting when the bored candy givers stop giving candy.

    There is a virtuous cycle for some streets as well. In san francisco there are some streets that get an insane number of trick or treaters.

  5. We had over a hundred, not including the two parties at our house. I love the trick part, and when we had HS Jacob boys (Twilights shirtless character) jokingly ask if they could crash the party, I told them to run through the downstairs. They interrupted the Ring to the delight of the thirteen year old girls. One of whom I had to catch following them on the way out. The 13 year old boys weren't as impressed.

    I noticed more lights out than usual but Texas is in the World Series.

  6. The only time I've heard the phrase "commercialization of Halloween" was in this Onion bit.

  7. I didn't count, but we got rid of the six bags of candy and some of the loot my three-year-old got which she won't eat, and I didn't start giving two candies until about 8:30. There is a major street nearby which supposedly has pretty good trick-or-treating, and I think a bunch of the kids on my street were on their way there (or back).

    We're in a dense old (my house was built in 1890) suburban neighborhood, and there are lots of kids of varying ages nearby.

    This year we got fewer kids driven in from Oakland, and fewer lame teenage boys with no costumes.

    P.S. - I'd never heard the last line to the trick-or-treat jingle until my wife taught it to our daughter, even though I grew up with Mischief Night and she didn't.


You MUST enter a nickname with the "Name/URL" option if you're not signed in. We can't follow who is saying what if everyone is "Anonymous."