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_1700 Coolidge
    user_1700
    @Rapporteur

    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.

    Columbus and the ‘burbs haven’t changed – most were yesterday, some are today, and two cities are tomorrow for some unknown reason (maybe deconflicting with the high school football playoffs): http://www.10tv.com/content/stories/topics/halloween-trick-or-treat-times.html

    • #31
  2. Concretevol Thatcher
    Concretevol
    @Concretevol

    I didn’t realize there was so much grey area about when trick or treating takes place.  Growing up I don’t remember a specific start time, that seemed to be based loosely on the age of the kids.  It definitely happened on the evening of the 31st though.  I believe that is still the case in my area although we don’t have any come by our house….too few homes to make it worth the walk I reckon.

    • #32
  3. St. Salieri Member
    St. Salieri
    @

    In my little hometown in western Pennsylvania, about two hours due north, Trick-or-Treating has been scheduled since the late 1960’s.  It was and still is a very rural and conservative community (though increasingly less so, especially it is far less religious than when I was a child).  Before then trick-or-treat was unregulated in any way and typically extended over several days reaching it’s final culmination on Halloween Night (unless it was a Sunday) with a public parade sponsored by the high school, a dance and a town party.  That has died out as the sense of community has died with the closing of the high school and general changes in the culture.  My understanding was that increased car traffic, the addition of the highway bi-pass near by, and coordinating with other boroughs to prevent endless trick-or-treating caused it to be regulated.  We also had a curfew for children in the past and you were excused from it on t-or-t night.

    • #33
  4. Mister D Member
    Mister D
    @MisterD

    Our town has a 9:00 curfew for the kids (every school night, not just Halloween), but outside of that there is no limit to when trick or treating is done. The sole exception to this was 2 years ago when hurricane Sandy cancelled Halloween, and the city chose a later date for the festivities.

    • #34
  5. user_1938 Member
    user_1938
    @AaronMiller

    St. Salieri: and coordinating with other boroughs to prevent endless trick-or-treating….

    In my town, if you are done doling out candy for the night, you can simply turn off your porch light and no one will bother you.

    • #35
  6. Concretevol Thatcher
    Concretevol
    @Concretevol

    Aaron Miller:

    St. Salieri: and coordinating with other boroughs to prevent endless trick-or-treating….

    In my town, if you are done doling out candy for the night, you can simply turn off your porch light and no one will bother you.

    Yeah I thought that was the universal standard….

    • #36
  7. Howellis Inactive
    Howellis
    @ManWiththeAxe

    In my memory, admittedly not perfect, of my own youthful trick-or-treating in the 1960s, I don’t remember so many parents out on the street, hardly any. Yesterday, out with my daughter’s family, including her husband and four-year-old twins, I saw parents with every child, and boy, was it crowded.

    Is my memory failing me?

    • #37
  8. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Man With the Axe:

    Is my memory failing me?

    I forget the question…

    • #38
  9. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    Miffed White Male:

    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”.

    Where I live, if a house doesn’t want to participate in trick or treating, they leave their front porch light off. It’s one of those pieces of common cultural knowledge: no light, move on to another house. I take it you have nothing like that up there?

    • #39
  10. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    Man With the Axe:In my memory, admittedly not perfect, of my own youthful trick-or-treating in the 1960s, I don’t remember so many parents out on the street, hardly any. Yesterday, out with my daughter’s family, including her husband and four-year-old twins, I saw parents with every child, and boy, was it crowded.

    Is my memory failing me?

    That’s part of the changing times, an anti-stranger-danger thing. The only kids I see going without parents are the pre-teens and young teens… around the 11 to 14 group.

    • #40
  11. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    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?

    Why would they show up a day before or after?  And if they did, why would you give them candy?  There’s no candy given out on the 30th, nor the 1st.  Only the 31st.

    What sort of weird alien planet are you people from where you can trick-or-treat on any night besides Halloween???

    • #41
  12. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    P.S. and what do you mean “all day and all night.”  Trick-or-treating during the day, in broad daylight??  Is nothing sacred???

    • #42
  13. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Joseph Stanko:

    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?

    Why would they show up a day before or after? And if they did, why would you give them candy? There’s no candy given out on the 30th, nor the 1st. Only the 31st.

    What sort of weird alien planet are you people from where you can trick-or-treat on any night besides Halloween???

    See comment #4.

    • #43
  14. Tim H. Member
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    Well, Halloween itself was pretty much of a let-down. Since trick-or-treating is the highlight of the holiday, and it seems like the costumes and the house decorations are there in supporting roles for this central activity, the actual day of Halloween has a bland, “eh…” kind of feel to it. Of course, this has been the case every year that we’ve lived here.

    I’m going to have to ask around among the adults who’ve grown up here, whether or not this was done when they were kids. I’d really like to know how it started. Was it, as one of you suggested, a matter of citizens asking the city to arrange a date, because something with trick-or-treating had gotten out of hand? But if so, it seems like a permanent solution to a possibly temporary problem. (Well, maybe not *permanent*, if it’s not codified in law.)

    But to the extent that it involves government regulating the activity, even if informally, it reminds me of how these cultural matters give rise to solutions that outlive their causes. One thing that comes to mind is how either Tennessee or my home, Blount County, has or had a law on how high your car’s rear bumper could be off the ground. In the ’70s, there eas a trend among some kids to jack up the car’s rear end to look cool. So that got regulated away, but the law long outlived the trend that sparked it. By teh ’80s, that didn’t look cool anymore. It looked like part of the seedy, ridiculous ’70s, but the law was still there.

    If there had been some problem (too many nights of trick-or-treating?) that got people to ask the city to regulate the Halloween schedule, and that was many decades ago, would we expect the problem to return right away if we stopped regulating now? Since this doesn’t happen everywhere, I wouldn’t think so. It’s a possibility, of course.

    • #44
  15. jmelvin Member
    jmelvin
    @jmelvin

    Tim H, I mentioned this thread to my wife the other day and she said that dates and times for trick or treating were set locally as far back as she could remember.  Granted she’s only in her mid-30s, but she did grow up in Huntington area.  Her family has been in that general area since before the split off of the western counties to become West Virginia so there might be some collective memories from those still living regarding the practices of Halloween going back close to a century.  I’ll  let you know what I find out.

    • #45
  16. Tim H. Member
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    jmelvin:[…] Her family has been in that general area since before the split off of the western counties to become West Virginia so there might be some collective memories from those still living regarding the practices of Halloween going back close to a century.

    Thanks, jmelvin!  I’m eager to hear what she might be able to turn up.  I should say that while it kind of bugs me, that’s because I’m used to a different practice, and I really do love Huntington.

    Because of the different explanations for this I’ve gotten from different people, I’m now wondering if this started because of some trouble of trick-or-treating getting out of hand (Going on for several nights?  Wild bunches of teenagers causing trouble?).  Maybe the citizens asked the city to settle on a single night for it, and it worked well enough that after a few generations, many people forgot the original reason for it, and other justifications were offered.

    I think once something like this becomes part of the culture in a place, the reasons for it get to be kind of varied, and mostly it’s still done because it has been done, and people are happy with it.

    • #46
  17. jmelvin Member
    jmelvin
    @jmelvin

    My wife talked to her mom and was told that the municipalities set the time and dates to trick-or-treat as far back as she could remember, so probably back to the late 1950s or early 1960s.  Will report with more as I hear it.

    • #47
  18. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    Miffed White Male: See comment #4.

    There’s no such thing as “Devil’s Night” in California, I never even heard of it growing up.  I think the first time I encountered the term was in a news story about Devil’s Night rioting in Detroit, and when I read it I assumed that was just a local name for Halloween, I didn’t realize it was a separate day.

    So I don’t think it would even occur to anyone here to trick-or-treat on the 30th.

    I wonder if there’s any correlation between areas that observe Devil’s Night and areas where trick-or-treat dates are assigned?

    • #48
  19. Tim H. Member
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    jmelvin:My wife talked to her mom and was told that the municipalities set the time and dates to trick-or-treat as far back as she could remember, so probably back to the late 1950s or early 1960s.

    Wow—that really does go far back!  I may have to check the Herald-Dispatch archives and see if I can find articles from when this started.

    • #49
  20. Tim H. Member
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    Joseph Stanko:

    I wonder if there’s any correlation between areas that observe Devil’s Night and areas where trick-or-treat dates are assigned?

    That’s a good question.  But like you, I’d thought that “Devil’s Night” was some kind of a distinctively weird thing about Detroit, the only place I’d ever heard of it.  That’s something more I can look up in our paper’s archives.

    • #50
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