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Friday, October 30, 2015

Bring Back Trick-Or-Treat, You Stingy Nonparticipants

In October 2014, Emily Yoffe, advice columnist "Dear Prudence" who takes questions on "manners, morals, and more" for Slate online magazine published this letter from a reader ...

Dear Prudence,

"I live in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country, but on one of the more 'modest' streets—mostly doctors and lawyers and family business owners. (A few blocks away are billionaires, families with famous last names, media moguls, etc.) I have noticed that on Halloween, what seems like 75 percent of the trick-or-treaters are clearly not from this neighborhood. Kids arrive in overflowing cars from less fortunate areas.

"I feel this is inappropriate. Halloween isn’t a social service or a charity in which I have to buy candy for less fortunate children. Obviously this makes me feel like a terrible person, because what’s the big deal about making less fortunate kids happy on a holiday? But it just bugs me, because we already pay more than enough taxes toward actual social services. Should Halloween be a neighborhood activity, or is it legitimately a free-for-all in which people hunt down the best candy grounds for their kids?"

—Halloween for the 99 Percent

 (Emily Yoffe. "Monster." Slate. October 28, 2014.)

Prudence answered with the following:

"In the urban neighborhood where I used to live, families who were not from the immediate area would come in fairly large groups to trick-or-treat on our streets, which were safe, well-lit, and full of people overstocked with candy.

“It was delightful to see the little mermaids, spider-men, ghosts, and the occasional axe murderer excitedly run up and down our front steps, having the time of their lives.

“So we'd spend an extra $20 to make sure we had enough candy for kids who weren't as fortunate as ours.

“There you are, 99, on the impoverished side of Greenwich [Connecticut] or Beverly Hills, with the other struggling lawyers, doctors, and business owners. Your whine makes me kind of wish that people from the actual poor side of town come this year not with scary costumes but with real pitchforks."

I have heard this same attitude about trick-or-treat night many times. And, yes, Halloween for the 99 Percent person, trick-or-treat is a "free-for-all in which people hunt down the best candy grounds for their kids?" And my opinion is that it is wonderful. It is the one colorful tradition in which we actually acknowledge and interact with all human beings -- young and old, rich and poor -- as they come to our doors in the spirit of celebration. I believe we should be happy to share without judgment.

On this one evening of the year, wide-eyed children dressed in creative costumes thrill to finding simple treasures of candy treats. If you can afford the "good stuff," shower them with this special attention. You are not contributing to begging or flaunting opulence when you hand out treats; instead, you are making memories that last a lifetime for those young, impressionable hearts.

When I was a kid, we always knew where the best treats were, and we couldn't wait to ring the doorbells of those with the best goodies. These offerings were special gifts that my friends and I still recall. In fact, we still marvel at the generosity of those who had the assets to provide the great treats. So, in a way, I do think trick-or-treat is a "social service" -- it is a enjoyable assistance that helps bind us all together.

And, if people choose to view it as a "charity" (as does 99 Percent), at least they can control exactly where their donation goes unlike their gifts to so many other so-called charities that send very little of the money to the appreciative and the needy. I think the conversation, the interaction, and the fun are paramount also -- it's an obligation of us givers and diametrically opposed to silently handing out candy and treating the kids as if we hate to participate. It's fun to compliment the kids on their costumes and to find ways to celebrate with them.

Are you sore about "paying taxes for social services" like 99 Percent? And, you want to take it out on little kids observing trick-or-treat? Come on. We are talking about spending within your means and sharing. No one is expecting people to bust their budgets on treats for Halloween.

However, this year, on my one-block street of 26 houses, only about 5 or 6 families handed out treats. This trend of fewer participants has been growing rapidly. In the not-too-distant past, nearly everyone participated according to their available resources. What do I think causes noncommittal? I think many people don't hand out treats because they don't really care. They have become more distant, more judgmental, and even bitter of these young strangers for some very questionable reasons. In accepting common excuses for not treating, they have actually forgotten the big thrill trick-or-treat gave them as youngsters.

More and more, Halloween is becoming an adult holiday. In 2014, costumes, candy and decoration sales estimates topped $7.4 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. Adults now spend more on costumes for themselves than on costumes for children. Adult costume sales have reached $1.38 billion, compared to 1.06 billion for kids, according to NRF estimates. People actually spend $350 million on pet costumes.

Bars and liquor stores experienced estimates of an average rise of nearly 30% in alcohol consumption during Halloween. Arthur Shapiro of AIM Shapiro & Associates, a marketing firm that specializes in the alcohol industry, says “Aside from Thanksgiving and Christmas, this is the holiday where retailers take in a lot of customers. New Year’s Eve is the big one, obviously, but Halloween has reached the point where it’s become a big holiday for adults.”

Another growing business is popup haunted houses, haunted mazes and other live-action Halloween amusements, which are expected to rake in $300 million a year, according to the Haunted Attractions Association. Eslich founded the Factory of Terror in Canton, Ohio, which is listed by the Guinness World Records as the longest walk-through horror house in the world. "People drive from three hours away to pay the $26 per person to get a fright," says John Eslich, president of the Haunted Attractions Association.

 (Kevin Voigt. "Halloween, once for kids, has become an adult holiday." Christian Science Monitor. October 29, 2014.) 

And, oh my, those adult Halloween costumes. Much has been written about the adult "sluttification" of Halloween. Sexy costumes of all kinds -- Sexy Witch, Sexy School Girl, Sexy Fire Fighter, Sexy Nurse, Sexy Nuns -- all are very popular. It is not fully clear why this trend started, but when Google started tracking costume searches in 2004, “sexy” plus costume was a hot search and they have expanded exponentially.

Laurie Essig, professor of sociology and gender studies at Middlebury College, claims the point of being hyper-sexualized on Halloween is to be sexually pure the rest of the year. Essig says, "In other
words, certain women -- particularly white, middle-class women -- have been afforded the status of being sexually pure and innocent, real ladies. Other women- especially poor women and/or women of color- have been marked as hyper-sexualized and dirty." I shudder to think adult ladies of the '50s and '60s (in my youngest days) would see their first allegiance to Halloween would be to display themselves as "sexy mommas."

(Laurie Essig. "'Sexy' Costumes Are Scary For Halloween." Forbes. October 31, 2012.)

So, I believe as Halloween has "grown up," the holiday has also robbed considerable focus and attention from children while it draws more importance as an observance of an adult celebration. What is wrong with that? Nothing necessarily ... unless you become so stilted, stingy, and critical that you sacrifice the joy and fun of children in the process. Aren't they worth some of that Halloween expenditure? You know they are.

I say bring back the genuine joy of sharing trick-or-treat with kids -- all of them, especially the hordes that invade your neighborhood. Even if you can afford just a token of a treat -- give it up. Many in this crowd of excited little faces need a little attention. Then, rich or poor, and especially you, 99 Percent, will be a more respected individual for at least the hour or two you hand out the goods. Call it "charity," "a social service." Hell, call it "a bribe." Whatever you choose to call your participation, children will simply say, "Sweet!"

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