Trunks are super useful. If you’re an elephant, they’re a necessity. If you want to change a tire, hide Christmas gifts or transport a body, trunks are invaluable. But I don’t understand the connection between trunks and Halloween. Why is trunk-or-treating a thing?
In the U.S., trick-or-treating started after WWII when children went door to door begging for food on Thanksgiving (not joking). Then they continued begging through Christmas, New Years, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and so on—so I guess someone decided to create a national begging celebration on Halloween.
This mass candy solicitation certainly worked for me for many years. Part of the thrill of trick-or-treating was leaving the familiar neighborhoods, searching for the families handing out full-size Butterfingers. We’d come home with pillowcases full of candy, after walking miles and miles through Murray, Utah.
Now, in our heavily-sanitized society, parents want to make sure their kids won’t be handed anything with sugar, soy, peanuts or gluten, or have to interact with neighbors they’ve never met—so trunk-or-treating was introduced.
I know some churches feel trunk-or-treating (Halloween tailgating) is a way to watch over kids while keeping demonic costumes to a minimum. In fact, kids are often encouraged to dress as bible characters.
(Side note: If I was forced to dress as a woman from the bible, I’d be Jael and I’d carry Sisera’s head with a nail shoved through his temple. But that’s just me. The Book of Revelations also has some pretty messed-up oddities. My daughters could easily have passed for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse on any given day.)
Anyway. Part of growing up is being terrified all the time. Kids have so little control over their lives and, unfortunately, they learn early on that life can be scary and unpredictable.
As kids on Halloween, we got super scared, but we also knew that, deep down, we truly were safe. Visiting haunted houses made us feel brave. In our minds, going from house to house, asking strangers for candy, was akin to walking down a dark alley in New York City.
There was always one house on the block you were afraid to visit because it had strobe lights, shrieking screams, ghoulish laughter when you rang the bell and an unidentifiable zombie handing out treats with his bloody hands.
Even scarier was the house where the neighborhood witch resided. Lights turned off. No jack o’ lantern. You knew she was sitting in the dark, staring out her window, ready to cast spells on children who came to her door.
Additionally, my mom had me paranoid about eating any unwrapped candy, convinced my friend’s mom had dipped the open jawbreaker in bleach several times before handing it to me.
But really? How many people did you know that found a razor blade in their apple or received temporary tattoos laced with acid?
On November 1, when we woke up with piles of candy, stomach aches and Halloween make-up smeared on our pillows, we also felt we had survived something frightening—and imagined ourselves a little bit braver as we faced our lives.
But trunk-or-treating is not remotely scary, unless your trunk is part of a 1950s Cadillac hearse, complete with creaky coffin and a driver named Lurch. Maybe instead of meeting in church parking lots, we can stay in our homes and hand out candy as kids go door-to-door. I think that idea might just catch on.
Originally published in The Davis Clipper–Oct. 2015