Halloween is not what it used to be. Fewer parents allow their children to go trick-or-treating. The reason for this is that we don’t trust our neighbors anymore, and we certainly don’t trust strangers. Paranoia has ruined Halloween.
I personally have a very broad memory of trick-or-treating, having grown up in various places in the US plus Germany. Every year my friends and I – or my parents when I was little – would go around to neighbors houses in costume and beg for candy. There was always one adult who would ask us to do a trick. We travelled in the neighborhoods where we lived. The streets were always crowded. We ate as much of the candy as we could before getting home, because parents or siblings would lay claim to it after that. Nobody was afraid – well, make-believe afraid perhaps, but not really afraid, not of our neighbors.
Nowadays they have car trick-or-treating in church parking lots. Children are encouraged to get their treats x-rayed before eating any. For the past several years, there have been no children coming down our street, even though we live in a pleasant neighborhood. The few children that still do the traditional trick-or-treating are driven over to Harrison Boulevard by their parents, partly because it is a prosperous neighborhood and known for its abundance, but also because it’s considered, ‘safe.’
Parents worry that their children’s’ costumes are too tight, and they’ll choke, or they’re too loose and they’ll trip. They worry that face masks will make their children blind to moving cars, or that drivers won’t see them. While these concerns are legitimate, it may be that parents are worrying too much and taking the fun out of the holiday.
One reason for the decline in trick-or-treating is the fear that our neighbors will poison or otherwise desecrate the candy that they give us. Apples will have razor blades in them. Candy bars will have pins and needles.
The actual evidence for random adulteration of Halloween candy is virtually nonexistent. A woman in 1964 made some ‘joke’ bags with marked boxes of rat poison in them that she handed out to older teenagers only. No one was hurt. In 1970 a boy died after getting into his uncle’s heroin. The parents put heroin in the candy to draw attention away from the uncle. In 1974, a father poisoned his eight-year-old son by putting cyanide in his candy, and tried to make it look like a random poisoning (Robinson, 2003).
The fear is fueled by certain religious groups and individuals promoting the idea that Satanists (by which they mean also Wiccans and other Pagans) use Halloween as a time to foist their evil schemes upon an unwitting community by randomly poisoning children. Do a web search for “Satanism Halloween” and you’ll see all kinds of testimony about this supposedly happening. As a Wiccan, I can attest that Halloween - or Samhain as we call it – is a major holiday of the year for many Pagan religions, but we have more important rites to attend to than the adulteration of children’s candy.
B. A. Robinson, a writer for Religioustolerance.org, states that, “A sad byproduct of these urban folk tales is that parents develop anxiety over a threat to their children that does not exist, or which exists at a very low level. Many children pick up the fears of their parents. Both end up believing that they live in a society that is far more violent than it really is (2003).”
The reason that we are so willing to believe these urban myths is, I believe, due to the fact that we are more afraid in general twelve months out of the year. We are afraid to let our children play outside alone; we are afraid to let them walk to school. Recently a man sipping coffee near a playground evoked frantic text messages and calls to the police (Rochman, 2012).
So what is to be done? I concur with Lenore Skenazy, author of Free Range Kids. “We can kill off Halloween, or we can accept that it isn't dangerous and give it back to the kids. Then maybe we can start giving them back the rest of their childhoods, too.”
-Skenazy, L. (2010, October 27). ‘Stranger Danger’ and the Decline of Halloween. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com.
-Rochman, B. (2012, June 11). Stranger Danger: Are Parents too Paranoid about Safety? Time Healthland. Retrieved from http://healthland.time.com/2012/06/11/stranger-danger-are-parents-too-paranoid-about-safety/