The Rule of Culture vs. Fiat in Holidays, or, In Which I Don’t Get How My City Can Assign a Date for Trick-or-Treating

 

shutterstock_921171Does anybody else live in a city that “decides” when kids will go trick-or-treating…and it’s not on Halloween? We moved to Huntington, West Virginia seven years ago and this was the first place I’d ever even heard of such a thing. It rubs me the wrong way, because this is a cultural practice that’s evolved, independent of government, over many hundreds of years. It strikes me as a gross overstepping of authority for a city to assign a date on which the custom will be carried out by individual citizens, especially when that date isn’t when the culture says it should be.  It’s almost as if the city decreed that people will open their Christmas presents on December 23rd.

I’m not all that interested in justifications for why they’re choosing a given date, though I’ve heard rumors that it’s to avoid kids being out when drunk adults are driving back from their Halloween parties. I’m mostly wondering how a city thinks it can insert itself into this aspect of private life. And what is it that the city actually does in assigning the date? Do they pass a law? Surely not. Do they have some informal resolution of the city council encouraging people? More likely, but I’ve never heard the details.

This is so foreign a concept to me that I’m amazed the citizens all go along with this. If it were a recent innovation, there would have to be push-back, but I’m not hearing any. So I assume this was all fought out decades ago. Yet it’s the first place I’ve ever heard of it. My elder, teenaged daughter (who knows everything) tells me that the entire state does this, and that I should stop complaining. I have my doubts. But another city over the border, where I teach, does it too, and I wonder if it’s some regional thing.

At this point, I could make a larger point about government trying to change well-established cultural practices, but I’ll leave that for another time.

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  1. user_1029039 Coolidge
    user_1029039
    @JasonRudert

    Yes. This is weird. I don’t see the safety angle. Kids trick or treat just after sundown. The bars don’t let out til 2am. You could accomplish the same thing with a curfew, if it’s really an issue–no TorT after 10pm.

    • #1
  2. Tim H. Member
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    My wife is foreign, so she has no preconceptions about how this is all supposed to be, and I think she doesn’t get why I’m steamed about this every year.  For that matter, since she grew up in Communist Romania, she was resigned to the government inserting itself into all kinds of private behavior.

    • #2
  3. MLH Inactive
    MLH
    @MLH

    Have a little cheer that it is the city government and not the state or federal gov’t.

    • #3
  4. Fake John Galt Coolidge
    Fake John Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Actually from a coordination point of view it makes sense.  Before our town started naming the day people were trick or treating for 3 days.  On the 30th for devils night, on the 31st for halloween and on the 1st for those that did not get the first two or were just greedy.  At least now I know what night I have to guard my house against destruction instead of all 3 nights.

    • #4
  5. Belt Inactive
    Belt
    @Belt

    I’m trying to remember if my home town has ever done that – I think we have, when Halloween falls on a Sunday.  I believe we’ve bumped it back to Saturday evening so as not to conflict with Sunday church services.  You can guess that I live in a fairly conservative and religious community.

    On a related note, at least one church will host a Harvest Party for kids – costumes and candy, but without that problematic satanism.  <ahem>  We’ve also had Reformation Day parties on October 31.

    For the most part, though, Oct 31 is a fun time, but not as significant around here as it is in bigger and more secular cities.

    • #5
  6. jmelvin Member
    jmelvin
    @jmelvin

    I grew up just outside of Columbus, OH and had no idea other places didn’t have specifically defined days for trick-or-treating in different neighborhoods until I went off to college.  I can’t recall if the same practice was common through the rest of Ohio too, but I am not the least bit surprised that Huntington has a similar practice given how many folks in central Ohio were from the northern parts of West Virginia and Kentucky and may have passed the concept along to their relatives or derived it from them.

    Although I could see the benefit of having suggested times and such, I certainly don’t see a need for it.  I’ll have to ask my family and friends in the Huntington area whether the Ohio side of the Huntington area has any similar suggested times for trick-or-treating.  My area of central Virginia certainly doesn’t have such suggestions though.

    • #6
  7. Tim H. Member
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    JMelvin—I teach in Portsmouth, Ohio, and I understand they have it there, too.  I didn’t realize that this stretched so far into Ohio, but it is starting to sound broadly regional to me.

    • #7
  8. jmelvin Member
    jmelvin
    @jmelvin

    I’ll have to make time to meet you next time I’m up that way, provided you’re up for it.  My dad’s family is from the Portsmouth area and my wife is from the Huntington area.  We were just up there earlier this week.

    • #8
  9. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    I believe that it’s a defensible role of local governments to codify local customs.

    If you don’t like how a local custom is codified, you have options at your disposal for increasing your liberty.  You can work to change the minds of your fellow citizens so they’ll lobby the local government to change how the custom is codified, and as a last resort you can also change your locale.

    I wouldn’t vote for it, and I would oppose it, but I’m not convinced that it’s necessarily an illegitimate function of local government.

    • #9
  10. user_1938 Member
    user_1938
    @AaronMiller

    I had never heard of this; not only of a government setting a date for trick-or-treating (even as a recommendation), but of trick-or-treating on a night other than Halloween night. I suppose the latter isn’t much stranger than the variety of customs regarding gifts around Christmas.

    City ordinances regarding traffic management and such on a particular night seem reasonable. But it is disturbing when officials seek to establish/eliminate or manage cultural celebrations rather than merely to adapt civic resources to the situation, as cities regularly do in response to public protests, political marches, and even Hollywood film crews.

    I suppose that this shouldn’t come as a surprise in an era when governments at every level are constantly promoting new days of “awareness” and celebration. It seems every day of the year is now designated as a day of remembrance or political action. If you’re a “minority”, then an entire month is devoted to telling everyone how wonderful you are.

    • #10
  11. Tim H. Member
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    jmelvin:I’ll have to make time to meet you next time I’m up that way, provided you’re up for it. My dad’s family is from the Portsmouth area and my wife is from the Huntington area. We were just up there earlier this week.

    Please do—mini-meet-up!

    • #11
  12. Tim H. Member
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    Here in Huntington, it seems that trick-or-treating is always pushed to a day other than Halloween, and since that’s the biggest cultural act for the holiday, it effectively changes the date of Halloween itself.  I’m not even a huge fan of Halloween (though I do enjoy it, especially the kids getting dressed up in costumes and trick-or-treating), but this bugs me.

    Now with this motivation, I think I’m going to tackle the ongoing scandal of moving the observance of Columbus Day to a Monday.  No more Monday holidays!

    • #12
  13. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    Weird here, too…Always the Thursday *before* the 31st – even when the 31st is a Friday; 6:00-7:30 PM.  “Safe Hallowe’en” party at the borough VFD Hall.  Just sad.

    • #13
  14. PHenry Member
    PHenry
    @PHenry

    Around here they move it to Friday if the 31st is on monday – thursday.  What I have found is that some kids are out on the 31st, and some are out on the Friday designated, and most are out on both nights.  More Candy!

    • #14
  15. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Misthiocracy: I wouldn’t vote for it, and I would oppose it, but I’m not convinced that it’s necessarily an illegitimate function of local government.

    You squish.

    • #15
  16. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Mike H:

    Misthiocracy: I wouldn’t vote for it, and I would oppose it, but I’m not convinced that it’s necessarily an illegitimate function of local government.

    You squish.

    Maybe Rob will give me a key to the secret squish clubhouse!

    ;-)

    • #16
  17. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    My hometown always set a date for trick-or-treating, and to be honest I don’t have a huge problem with it. In fact, I believe the citizens of my town had requested it.

    For better or worse, Halloween is not Christmas or Easter, and trick-or-treating, while the most popular activity of the holiday, is not crucial to it (as gift-giving is not crucial to Christmas).

    There are many practical reasons for trick-or-treating on a different day. In our hometown, we always did it on a Friday since the next day was not a work/school day, which made life significantly easier for our parents. And if a large number of citizens want to move the date, city government is probably the most efficient body to do so.

    I think the attitude is the dominant factor. If, as in my hometown, the citizens request a date change and the city government responds, that’s fine. If city government goes it alone, or just with the input of some activist group, not fine.

    • #17
  18. captainpower Inactive
    captainpower
    @captainpower

    I don’t like it.

    Relatedly, I considered writing a post about it at the time, but July 4th independence day fireworks are banned in many cities. Is this a new thing?

    Seems … un-American?

    • #18
  19. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    captainpower:I don’t like it.

    Relatedly, I considered writing a post about it at the time, but July 4th independence day fireworks are banned in many cities. Is this a new thing?

    Seems … un-American?

    Local regulation of local customs seems very American to me.

    Look at all the movies that portray these kinds of conflicts. Rarely are they resolved by appealing to a higher government or to the courts.  Instead, they are resolved locally, via democratic persuasion.

    The best example I can think of is Footloose. Kevin Bacon doesn’t sue the town to force it to change its prohibition on dancing. Instead, he persuades the town that the prohibition on dancing is a bad idea.

    The best counter-example I can think of is Inherit The Wind, where the courts are used to overturn state education policy.

    Now, which one of those two examples seems more “American” or “un-American”?

    • #19
  20. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    One more point:

    At least in my hometown (and I expect in most others), parents want and expect a greater police presence during trick-or-treating hours. If the police are going to be out in extra force, that is a legitimate reason for the city government to have at least some say in when that will take place.

    • #20
  21. captainpower Inactive
    captainpower
    @captainpower

    Misthiocracy: Local regulation of local customs seems very American to me.

    Really?

    This seems to contradict the whole “live and let live” notion that I consider American. Most things don’t need to be regulated.

    We already have laws about drunk driving, manslaughter, and property damage. Does the game change when we don’t have a hope of catching the perpetrators? Does it change when civil society becomes an uncivil mob?

    I never particularly noticed kids egging my house for being stingy with candy, but if I did I would be angry.

    • #21
  22. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    captainpower:

    Misthiocracy: Local regulation of local customs seems very American to me.

    Really?

    Hey, if you want to edit out the supporting examples I provided, that’s your prerogative.

    • #22
  23. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    I’ve never lived any place that did NOT set date and time for trick or treat.  How does that work exactly – do kids just show up sporadically at your door all day and night on the 31st, and a day or two before and after?  Sounds pretty annoying.

    I like our system – people know when to be around, if it’s nice you can park yourself outside and watch the parade of kids through the neighborhood.  We had it last Sunday, which yes, was farther from actual Halloween than I’d prefer, but that’s a trick of the calendar this year.  It was a nice day for October, most of the neighborhood was outside in the driveway, people had firepits going in their driveways.  It was like a community event or something.

    • #23
  24. user_1938 Member
    user_1938
    @AaronMiller

    Mendel: I think the attitude is the dominant factor. If, as in my hometown, the citizens request a date change and the city government responds, that’s fine. If city government goes it alone, or just with the input of some activist group, not fine.

    That sounds about right.

    Misthiocracy: [….] The best example I can think of is Footloose. Kevin Bacon doesn’t sue the town to force it to change its prohibition on dancing. Instead, he persuades the town that the prohibition on dancing is a bad idea.

    The best counter-example I can think of is Inherit The Wind, where the courts are used to overturn state education policy.

    Now, which one of those two examples seems more “American” or “un-American”?

    That also sounds about right.

    Mendel: For better or worse, Halloween is not Christmas or Easter, and trick-or-treating, while the most popular activity of the holiday, is not crucial to it (as gift-giving is not crucial to Christmas).

    I dispute this. Whether or not it was originally so, trick-or-treating has become central to the tradition in many areas. Most people ignore the day’s origins. But a celebration needn’t be a high holy day to merit the freedom of public group expression.

    That Halloween is a “lesser” holiday than Christmas should make little difference. We have room in our culture for both silly and serious parades, annual and impromptu festivals, and a wide variety of public celebrations or gatherings. When those activities interfere with public access (ex: blocked roads) or require exceptional public resources (such as police escorts), then the public (meaning voters, not just politicians and bureaucrats) should have a say in the acceptable limits of those public displays.

    But I would again cite the example of public protests and political marches. Those often place burdens on city resources, yet they are generally afforded great leeway. Should celebrations and festivals be treated very differently?

    • #24
  25. jmelvin Member
    jmelvin
    @jmelvin

    Miffed White Male:I’ve never lived any place that did NOT set date and time for trick or treat. How does that work exactly – do kids just show up sporadically at your door all day and night on the 31st, and a day or two before and after?

    In my current locality we don’t have set days for trick-or-treat, but based on 5 years of experience, the neighborhood kids just come out in the evening hours on the day of, or day before Halloween.  It’s never really an issue for my wife and I, because there really aren’t that many of them, and we have a general feel for when they’ll show up now.  It’s really no big deal in the end.

    • #25
  26. captainpower Inactive
    captainpower
    @captainpower

    Misthiocracy: Hey, if you want to edit out the supporting examples I provided, that’s your prerogative.

    Re: Comment #19 and #22
    I disagree that your examples are useful. I didn’t want to get distracted from the core of the argument.

    Quoting manually:

    The best example I can think of is Footloose. Kevin Bacon doesn’tsue the town to force it to change its prohibition on dancing. Instead, he persuades the town that the prohibition on dancing is a bad idea.

    The best counter-example I can think of is Inherit The Wind, where the courts are used to overturn state education policy.

    Now, which one of those two examples seems more “American” or “un-American”?

    1)

    Footloose is a movie (which I have not seen). I don’t know if it is based at all in reality. To outlaw dancing seems draconian and is not part of an American tradition I am familiar with in my lifetime.

    2)

    State education policy is not a cultural celebration.

    3) Back to the argument.

    A citizenry should not have to petition the legislature to allow such things. The government should be prohibited from regulating them in the first place. This is an argument put forward by the Clark Niely of the Institute for Justice in his book Terms of Engagement: How Our Courts Should Enforce the Constitution’s Promise of Limited Government.

    A related question (Is Administrative Law Unlawful?) is whether the bureaucracies created by the legislature are an abdication of the responsibility of our representatives.

    Similar to the idea in cronyism where the benefited party with a vested interest will fight tooth and nail for a 5 cent tax that applies to millions of people (I can’t remember the name of this concept) but most of the tax payers can’t be bothered to waste their time over 5 cents, it is not feasible for the average person to waste time petitioning the DMV (or TSA). And getting congresspeople involves usually just results in exceptions when the agency quickly tries to alleviate the heat by doing the right thing (finally) for one person (instead of everyone).

    • #26
  27. Tim H. Member
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    Miffed White Male:I’ve never lived any place that did NOT set date and time for trick or treat. How does that work exactly – do kids just show up sporadically at your door all day and night on the 31st, and a day or two before and after? Sounds pretty annoying.

    Keeping in mind that I’m from up in the Smoky Mountains, outside any cities, people back home simply go out trick-or-treating a little after suppertime and through the evening of Halloween itself, never any other day or time.  It’s enough of a cultural expectation, that you never get anybody on other days or times.

    I’m surprised to hear others here saying the kids in their community might go trick-or-treating on more than one night, but that’s some of the regional variation I’m comfortable with, as long as I know what to expect.

    • #27
  28. user_158368 Inactive
    user_158368
    @PaulErickson

    The good news is we’re not China. Yet.  Over there, the government routinely makes Saturday or Sunday a work day so they can string together multiple holidays during the week without losing productivity.

    • #28
  29. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    jmelvin:

    Miffed White Male:I’ve never lived any place that did NOT set date and time for trick or treat. How does that work exactly – do kids just show up sporadically at your door all day and night on the 31st, and a day or two before and after?

    In my current locality we don’t have set days for trick-or-treat, but based on 5 years of experience, the neighborhood kids just come out in the evening hours on the day of, or day before Halloween. It’s never really an issue for my wife and I, because there really aren’t that many of them, and we have a general feel for when they’ll show up now. It’s really no big deal in the end.

    In my neighborhood, we get literally* hundreds of kids in the course of two hours.  It’s a non-stop stream.  If you spread that over a longer period of time, and into the nighttime when it’s cold here in the North so you can’t hang outside, it’d be a pain.

    *Using “literally hundred” in the dictionary sense of the word, meaning we get more than 200 kids, not in the Joe Biden sense of “about a dozen”.

    • #29
  30. Howellis Inactive
    Howellis
    @ManWiththeAxe

    Misthiocracy: The best example I can think of is Footloose. Kevin Bacon doesn’t sue the town to force it to change its prohibition on dancing. Instead, he persuades the town that the prohibition on dancing is a bad idea. The best counter-example I can think of is Inherit The Wind, where the courts are used to overturn state education policy. Now, which one of those two examples seems more “American” or “un-American”?

    In “Inherit the Wind” it is the state’s policy that strikes me as un-American. They wanted to put a teacher in jail for expressing his views, namely, the teaching of the theory of evolution in science class. The court case was in fact the criminal case against the teacher, and not a civil challenge to the state’s policy. Thus, the court was being used to enforce, not overturn, the state’s policy.

    One could argue that the state has every right to require and prohibit what it wants to in its schools, but don’t forget that children are compelled to attend, or their parents could be put in jail, unless they have the wherewithal to finance an acceptable alternative to the state-mandated schools.

    • #30
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