I want to write about a subject that has become rather controversial: trick-or-treating. I understand from the get-go that not everyone is going to agree with me – but isn’t that a part of the messy middle? If we only stick to talking about “safe” things, we are going to be left with the banality of the weather and traffic; I want more than that and I believe we are capable of engaging hard subjects.


When I was a kid Halloween was a holiday filled with lots of discussions about costumes, candy, parties, and fun. Buying and carving pumpkins – rejoicing over faces that turned out and groaning overs that didn’t come to life in the way envisioned. Hoping that it wouldn’t be so cold you’d have to wear a winter coat over your costume! It was the one night a year the neighborhood came alive with people.

In more recent years Halloween and trick-or-treating got a bad rap between the questions of safety for kids (can we really trust strangers to hand out candy?) and religious aspects. Ironically in Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath they looked at the question of what makes some messages stick and used the example of Halloween candy. I would imagine that you have heard about razor blades in candy or drug injected candy being handed out. I had too. After looking into every incident reported, the Heath brothers were able to determine that there has never been ONE incident of Halloween candy that was tainted in ANY way. Not one.  Yet we have all heard of the accusations and assume because they are so prevalent they must in some way be based on reality.

Who wants to be the jerk who is against children’s’ safety and so Trick-or-treating got moved inside and renamed.

I have mixed feeling about the “Fall Festivals” that have become the norm at many churches and other places of gathering. Part of me applauds the church looking for ways to be a haven and being willing to open their doors instead of close them. But another part is kind of turned off by the withdrawal and segregation. It’s the ONE night a year in America where we are socially sanctioned to wander around our neighborhoods, knock on each other’s doors and greet one another. The ONE night. And what have we done, we have said that safety is more important than engagement (I told you, you might not agree).

In China so much of life happens out on the streets. Things are sold, games are played, meals are eaten, children are taken for walks, people hang out. Street life is active. One of the most consistent comments Chinese make when they are in the US is how dead our streets are; how very little life happens on them. The garage door goes up, we drive in, and down the door goes. Where are all of the people? Where is the action? Too much of it happens inside. How lonely and boring life can be in the US. I can’t disagree.

Several years ago I happened to be in the US for Halloween and was able to go trick-or-treating with my sister and her girls. We had a blast! The two of us were the only adults dressed up, but you know what, we probably had more fun than most. Who doesn’t love a big yellow crayon and static cling? As we went door-to-door in her neighborhood we got to meet neighbors she knew and ones that she hadn’t yet met. She was able to point out where she lived and to introduce herself and their family. It’d hard not to like a woman who has laundry pinned on her.  When we returned home the girls got to participate in the age old tradition of candy sorting, counting, rejoicing and negotiating. We recalled stories from this house, or that dog, or those decorations while munching on candy.

There are so many ways that American life is very isolated and safe and lived behind walls; but not on this night. On this night may neighbors not be afraid of one another; may strangers connect over costumes and candy that may lead to more significant connecting. May this be the year that we take back the streets!

Categories: Community, Faith



Leave A Comment

  1. Megan October 30, 2011 at 9:32 pm - Reply

    I love this! I, too, am turned off by “trunk or treat” and “harvest parties” and the like. I adore Halloween for a lot of reasons, but one of the main ones is the bustling street scene. I can’t wait to take Johnny out in the wagon and see all of our neighbors on Monday!

    • Amy November 1, 2011 at 10:46 am - Reply

      I can’t imagine having much more fun than a great Lawrence night in October. I hope it was such fun!! Amy

  2. Emily Theresa Wierenga October 31, 2011 at 2:01 am - Reply

    oooh i love this! i just wrote about this too (http://canvaschild.blogspot.com) and this taking back the streets, this is what it’s all about, friend. thank you.

  3. Karen Krenz October 31, 2011 at 11:22 am - Reply

    As on all ‘sticky’ issues there are many aspects of “street life”. I long ago noticed how Americans no longer enjoy the streets or our neighbors. Rarely do you see kids outside playing with each other — the street became our baseball field/football field/capture-the-flag field/or street hockey field, depending on the season or time of day. We always played outside! Today, you rarely see such scenes. There is one neighborhood near my college where the kids still play outside in the yards and streets! It always warms my heart, and brings a smile to my face.

    • Amy November 1, 2011 at 11:10 am - Reply

      I love those kind of neighborhoods too! Smiling with you … Amy

  4. patterpeople October 31, 2011 at 7:34 pm - Reply

    We’re home from China for a semester and trick or treat is on my “secret to-do list” because so many people disapprove but I have too many fond memories and want that for our kids :) We’ll be on the streets in less than 12 hours. Yippee!

    • Amy November 1, 2011 at 10:45 am - Reply

      I hope you had a great time!! Amy

  5. Corey October 31, 2011 at 9:32 pm - Reply

    Nice entry, but I’d like to criticize you for not posting the picture of the above mentioned yellow crayon and static cling. Jia you.

    The Other Young

    • Amy November 1, 2011 at 10:45 am - Reply

      That crayon costume has made the rounds in our family! We’ve got pictures of my dad in it, me, and I think both sisters. Now just for the nieces to get a bit taller and they can have the honor of being the yellow crayon!

      • LeAnne Parham November 13, 2011 at 11:42 pm - Reply

        I was wondering about the photo, too…. C’mon. Surely there must be one.

        Oh, and I, too, have been a yellow crayon! Only it was for a show in college. Hooray for huangse crayons!

        • Amy November 14, 2011 at 6:06 am - Reply

          I love it! How many of us can say we’ve been yellow crayons. So happy to be in good company :=)

  6. Dae Wilshire November 7, 2011 at 6:56 am - Reply

    Our way to take back the streets? Hand out grilled hot dogs and hot chocolate on Halloween night. You wouldn’t believe how stunned and delighted people are to be given a warm snack and drink on a chilly night. We’re intentional about talking to them, asking their name, telling them we’re glad to see them. Many neighbors (non-costumed) stop by and enjoy the handout too. Admittedly, no one has gotten saved at our hot dog stand. But it’s pure joy to watch so many people receive these small offerings with such happiness. Big smiles show so bright, even through gory face paint and seemingly wicked costumes. I understand why some don’t like the holiday, but this is one night to be a light in the midst of the dark with the entire neighborhood.

    • Amy November 7, 2011 at 7:07 am - Reply

      Love it! That’s what I’m talking about — connecting! And who doesn’t love a hot dog?! Thanks Dae. Miss you around the Mac. Amy

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