Neighbourhoods

Hallowe'en and Community Spirit

By Michelle Martin
Published November 12, 2012

On Hallowe'en this year, I think we had a grand total of 20 kids come by: understandable, since our house and maybe only four others were shelling out, front steps lit up and jack-o-lanterns glowing.

When I was younger, we wouldn't have ventured down a mostly darkened street, either. Bonus is more candy for the adults in the house, but that was small consolation for the lack of pillowcases to help fill, and little ones to coo over. Our own younger children kept their trick-or-treating to the streets where there was more action.

I know that there are those who, for reasons of conscience, don't participate in the revelry. This is not addressed to them.

This is addressed to neighbourhood folks (and you all have some like this in your own neighbourhoods) whose own little ones went trick-or-treating in years gone by, and who have decided that it is just not something they will do any longer, citing, I dunno, kids who don't say thank you (really, even the most well-raised and polite children are capable of forgetting this in the heat of the moment), or kids who come from out of the neighbourhood with parents who carry what doesn't fit into their plastic pumpkin bucket (but why shouldn't those who live in less privileged areas start early and collect all the goodies they can? Where's the harm in that? Surely nothing that moderate consumption and a toothbrush won't fix).

This is also addressed to young adults who have forgotten about the fun they once had, and have chosen not to pay it forward.

Hallowe'en was always more than a bit of harmless fun (though it is that, too). It was a neighbourhood happening, a kind of Take Back the Night for kids, when they had a chance to run around after dark, learn to be a little braver, and to meet the neighbours, who, by their participation, made the community safer for its youngest members, and took on some responsibility for making sure things went off smoothly by driving slowly and leaving the porch lights on.

It was even a time to get the generations together. I remember my siblings, cousins and I being driven to my great-grandmother's seniors' building, where the residents (some of whom dressed up, too) came down to the lobby to enjoy the kids.

Now it seems to be happening only in increasingly smaller pockets of larger areas. I'm sure people aren't avoiding Hallowe'en because of vandalism, not on our block. In 12 years of shelling out in Hamilton, our house has not had one pumpkin smashed, not one tree TP'ed.

Hallowe'en is a relatively painless way to contribute to a larger social event. You don't have to raise a barn, or plan a block party, or even open up your home to anyone - a bag of cheap suckers and an outside light, and you're good to go.

What does it say about community spirit when those who have the means to do this refuse to bother?

And what does this say about neighbourhood safety when more and more folks, on a night when they know there will be children running around outdoors, turn off all their outside lights and go down to the basement to watch television? Or make a point of leaving the area by 5:30 PM, early enough that they won't have to encounter a toddler in pumpkin costume?

Michelle Martin lives in Hamilton where she and her husband are watching their 10 children fly the nest, one by one. She has been published in both the Hamilton Spectator and Raise the Hammer, as well as in the online edition of the National Post and, more recently, in the Canadian Urban Transit Association's Urban Mobility Forum. Michelle is coordinator of the Community Access to Transportation program. She was formerly on the writing/copy editing team of the original Crown Point hub paper, The Point. However, the opinions she expresses in Raise the Hammer are her own. She sometimes tweets @deltawestmom

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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted November 12, 2012 at 09:42:00

I know that there are those who, for reasons of conscience, don't participate in the revelry. This is not addressed to them.

Fair enough Mrs. Martin and thanks for sharing.

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By theOther (registered) | Posted November 12, 2012 at 19:54:46 in reply to Comment 82761

Boo!

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted November 13, 2012 at 00:55:36

I went out (in costume!) with my little one. At some houses, we were the first or third people to come by, even as it got later. My own place got something like 6 kids.

Halloween is the one holiday which gets people knocking on the doors of random neighbours...that kind of community activity is worth maintaining.

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By arienc (registered) | Posted November 13, 2012 at 12:24:09

Also have to wonder if there isn't a bit of an exodus (for those that have kids of trick or treating age) to places where the demographics are more favourable for trick or treating. In my neck of the woods, north-east Burlington, there are literally hundreds of kids. My own two filled up their little buckets, then wanted to go out again, with my two year old totally getting into the spirit, wishing everyone and everyone around him a Happy Haaoowee. It is one of the biggest opportunities to get to know the neighbours, and in this day and age where many people rarely see kids outside at any time, its fantastic. Many people go all out to set up elaborate displays and give the neighbourhood kids a "frightening" experience - I'd say that the collective amount of time, effort and money spent decorating for Halloween in my neighbourhood is on the way to overtaking decorating for Christmas if it hasn't already.

While one would expect a denser neighbourhood to provide even more trick or treating enjoyment, there's something to be said for a critical mass of families with young children. The challenge is to motivate those areas that are more diverse demographically to make a similar investment in something that is viewed mainly as "for the children".

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted November 13, 2012 at 18:49:27 in reply to Comment 82833

The challenge is to motivate those areas that are more diverse demographically to make a similar investment in something that is viewed mainly as "for the children".

Yes! It could be a neighbourhood shindig that unites the generations.I remember it being that way-- retired folks didn't opt out of Hallowe'en when I was a kid. They used to enjoy it, witness my Nana's senior's building, and all the older folks who shelled out for my cohort (whose parents, btw, are this age's retirees). Is this phenomenon evidence of stereotypical boomer attitudes, do you think?

Comment edited by Michelle Martin on 2012-11-13 18:49:39

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By Halloween fan (anonymous) | Posted November 16, 2012 at 17:23:34

It is sad and I noticed a significant decline in my neighbourhood even among those who usually go all out. Regarding Halloween origins, while steeped in occult mythology belief, it actually was simply Celtic New year nothing unhallowed about that. Also trick or treating may have developed from some existing tradition it is really a North American thing and is not occult at all. To damn something for preceptions or happenings on a particular night that one may diagree with is hardly a reason to be in opposition to a community based night aimed at kids like trick or treating. I mean look at the many christmas and other holiday traditions and you will find they have ancient non-christian cultural origins but are not dangerous at all and you have probably been doing them yourself since childhood. Religion does not preclude fun and you will not turn away from a belief simply for giving or accepting candy or puttng up a pumpkin (even the pumpkin is a north american tradition). By all means if their are aspects of the night that offend beliefs by all means there is not need to accomodate but handing candy to kids seems a hard one to justify to me.

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By Halloween fan (anonymous) | Posted November 16, 2012 at 17:32:04

One more point is that though financially one of the more successful holidays for business, I had noticed a decline too among non-night club related halloween activities and even television did not really reflect the holiday much. In additon to trick or treating I would like to see more simple and community oriented events not predicated on costumes and alcohol consumption at a club. Parties, community get togethers haunted houses, bon fires are just some of the fun things that could happen and do but not nearly as much.

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