I have always been a lover of Halloween. My elementary school would go overboard. There was the costume parade and Halloween parties. In music class we would sing the spookiest songs. Witches Brew, Skin and Bones. I would rush to the library to check out the ultimate scary story collection “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.”At home the fun continued. My father would play Thriller on repeat to honestly scared the crap out of me and I was petrified to go anywhere near the basement).
I remember the joy that I had making up costume ideas with old clothes, scouring the house for the perfect size pillow case, and walking to every house in my neighborhood that my flat-footed self could manage.
When I moved into my first home in 2013, I was super-stoked about having the same old fun with my new neighbors. I had visions of my house being known as the “one that gave away the good candy.” So, I went out and purchased the good stuff. Snickers. M&Ms. Resse’s. more Snickers.
When the time came, I lit my carved pumpkins; I turned on my front porch light; I turned on Thriller and I waited. And ate a Snickers. And waited. And not one child came to my door.
It wasn’t until the next day that I learned that my town had banned trick-or-treating To this day I don’t know if it has to do with the fear of poison apples (Riverdale Children, Beware on Halloween – The Washington Post) or the whole “the Exorcist really took place in this small town in Prince George’s County.” thing (The Real Story Behind “The Exorcist” – WETA).
In it’s packaging, trick-or-treating is about getting (or giving) free candy, but when the box of treats is unwrapped, an even better treat is shared– neighbors that are organically building a safe, walkable, and accessible community. Trick-or-treating is a subtle way to learn who lived in your neighborhood and where? You got to know the people who lived down the block or around the corner. Trick-or-treating gets everyone in the neighborhood involved. Not just just families with children, but singles and empty-nesters too.
Communities where people are encouraged NOT to walk, for fear of crime, only reinforces the idea that the neighborhood is unsafe (The Small, Often Imperceptible Reasons Some Neighborhoods Feel Safer Than Others). I mean, just imagine how unsafe a community is perceived to be, if the local government forbids children to walk around in groups at night. Alternatively, communities, where residents are encouraged to get outside and engage with one another, help create a safer atmosphere.
In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, activist Jane Jacobs describes it this way:
A city street equipped to handle strangers, and to make a safety asset, in itself, out of the presence of strangers, as the streets of successful city neighborhoods always do, must have three main qualities…And third, the sidewalk must have users on it fairly continuously, both to add to the number of effective eyes on the street and to induce the people in buildings along the street to watch the sidewalks in sufficient numbers. Nobody enjoys sitting on a stoop or looking out a window at an empty street. Almost nobody does such a thing. Large numbers of people entertain themselves, off and on, by watching street activity.
Instead of seeing Halloween as a dangerous or sinister activity, our communities should embrace it as an annual celebration of all things that make our blocks livable; and do the preparation to make sure we’re ready for the big day. Are the street lights working? Are the sidewalks clear of debris and overgrown hedges? Are walking paths wide enough for wheelchairs and are tree-roots not altering the sidewalk angles? Are there clearly marked crosswalks for children crossing intersections? And are all of our street (drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists) aware of how to create and maintain safe streets?
This year, I am pleased to report that my Town Commission has lifted the ban on trick-or-treating. And I must say, the town administration has been working hard to get the neighborhood in tip-top shape. The sidewalks have been recently renovated to ensure ADA compliance. Hanging tree limbs have been cut down and big-belly solar-powered trash and recycling bins have been placed around town.
Since so many of the children and teenagers in Cottage City have never experienced the joy of going door to door and begging your neighbors for candy; I wanted to share four quick tips to make our first real Halloween in Cottage City a success.
- Form Walking Trick-Or-Treat Buses It’s the same concept as a Walking School Bus (a group of children with one or more adults), but instead of walking to school, the bus walks to several neighbors’ homes. This helps to ensure that there is a responsible adult with children at all times, while also providing children the opportunity to spend time with their friends.
- Only visit homes that have their porch lights on.
Traditional Halloween courtesy says that if you have candy to give out, then you turn your porch light on or light your pumpkin letting families know that you are participating. If there are no seasonal decorations or no lights on, skip this home. As the occupants are either not there or don’t have any candy to give away.
- If you aren’t going trick-or-treat, then go outside and see your neighbors.
Just because you’re not trick-or-treating, doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun in the evening. Your job is to help make sure all the kids move safely throughout the neighborhood. Spend time on your front porch and get to know them those who live around you.
- Give out good candy. Seriously. You do not want to be THAT house.
- Most importantly, have fun building the community that you deserve.