The candy is purchased. The spooky decorations are up. The costumes have been chosen (after much dramatic whining and changing of minds). The nights are getting longer, and Halloween is approaching. 

So, where are you going to trick or treat? 

You might hit the streets and sidewalks with your kids, cruising your neighborhood in search of candy. Increasingly though, you’ll take them to a Trunk or Treat, a parking lot party of sweets, costumes, and decorated vehicles that’s hosted by a church or civic organization. I don’t remember Trunk or Treat existing when I was a kid, let alone being popular. But now it seems there is a new one every year, on every corner. I’ll probably take my kids to one, in fact, before we do our traditional door-to-door. 

Now. Lean in closer, dearie. Here’s where I tell you a little Halloween secret. 

I don’t like Trunk or Treat. 

Not any specific one by any specific group. I dislike the entire concept. The treats in the trunks. The parking lot party. The whole thing. 

“A witch!” the readers cried. “A monster! Burn her! Ban her column!” 

Yes, yes. I know. I’m the Halloween Grinch. After all, Trunk or Treat is fun. It’s inclusive. It’s welcoming. It keeps kids from getting run over on the street, hanging out in bad neighborhoods, picking up candy laced with drugs, or coming face to face with that really creepy guy on the corner. Trunk or Treats are the perfect showcase of modern values. They are lighthearted and bountiful, accessible, easy, creative, and above all, safe. But they also have the potential to empty Halloween of the childhood lessons that give it depth. 

At Trunk or Treat, the pavement is even, the environment is well-lit, and the candy comes from reputable community members. In trick or treat, you must watch your step and navigate the shadows. Trusted friends or family members can guide you through the dark, advising you who to visit and who to avoid. At Trunk or Treat, every car is open for business. Everyone gives you a present. In trick or treat, some houses are dark. Not everyone wants to play the game, and they don’t have to. You move on. At Trunk or Treat, the candy is high-quality and free-flowing. In trick or treat, you meet the quirky ones who give you dental floss and Bible tracts and the stingy ones who give you next to nothing. You must learn to hold your tongue and say thank you. At Trunk or Treat, the world is small and pleasant and it treats you kindly. In trick or treat, the world is big and a bit spooky, unpredictable but also rewarding. 

At Trunk or Treat, there are expectations. In trick or treat, there are encounters. Every home is a new meeting place between a child and the community in which she lives. Every front door opening is a brief glimpse into someone else’s life. Young and old, grumpy and sweet, generous and stingy, all live on one street. For a child, especially a child holding his parent’s hand, it’s a manageable microcosm of real life. A laboratory for social interaction. 

Go ahead and Trunk or Treat this year without fear of judgement. Your kids love it, and so do mine. But please don’t make it the only stop on your Halloween pilgrimage. Take your kids out into the big, dark, spooky world. Teach them that they’re ready for the challenge, that you’ll be by their side as long as you need them. Show them that sometimes life is sweet, but other times you come away empty-handed. Teach them that good community, not just good candy, is worth seeking — walk up to that door, knock, and call out to the people inside. 

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