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Opinion: Halloween without trick-or-treating can be a Hallo-win

Opinion by Jillian Pretzel

(CNN) — It was a brisk Halloween morning when my family moved into our home two years ago. “I put our costumes in a specific box so I’ll know exactly where they are tonight,” I told my new next-door neighbor, who’d popped her head over our shared garden wall to introduce herself.

“Oh, this neighborhood doesn’t do trick-or-treating,” she said matter-of-factly. “Never has.”

I looked around at the suburban Californian neighborhood, which, with its many streetlights and wide sidewalks, would be objectively perfect for trick-or-treating. Was this neighborhood full of cavity-spooked dentists? Or had I moved into some anti-Halloween, “Footloose”-type community?

In an unsatisfying end to moving day, my family and our Alice in Wonderland costumes drove across town to our old condo complex to ask for candy. I set a treat bowl on my new doorstep just in case—but not a piece was touched.

I soon learned that there’s no official rule (or dental hygiene brigade) against trick-or-treating in our new area. When the neighborhood was built two decades ago, all the homeowners just happened to be empty-nesters or dedicated dog parents. There were no kids, and so, no trick-or-treating.

While a number of young families have moved in since then, the homes have maintained their tradition of keeping porch lights off on All Hallows’ Eve. The neighborhood kids who want to trick-or-treat simply go elsewhere.

Over dinner one night, I told my husband that I felt duped. I liked our house, and wanted us to buy it, in large part because it looked like the perfect place to raise kids. When I toured the home, I had visions of family walks to the neighborhood playground, watching my daughter climb the numerous trees, and trick-or-treating every October.

In a failed effort to make me feel better, my husband pointed out that some of our parent friends choose to take their kids to Halloween festivals and trunk-or-treating (the variation of trick-or-treating where kids go from car to car to collect candies, usually held in church or school parking lots) instead of going around their blocks. “I don’t know if they’re afraid of razor blades in candy or just don’t want to be out late,” he said with a shrug. “But I’ve heard trick-or-treating isn’t as big as it used to be.”

I wanted to scoff at the suggestion that my favorite Halloween tradition was on its way out, but I couldn’t help but think my husband might be right. My best friend lives on a busy street in Los Angeles and complains that she’s gotten fewer and fewer trick-or-treaters over the past decade. My sister-in-law, who lives in an adorable Pennsylvania suburb, said that last year, she only gave candy to her mailman. My cousin, who lives in a New York City apartment, says he always buys Halloween candy—but usually ends up eating it himself.

But I wasn’t ready to give up on our new home. Whenever I ran into a neighbor, I brought up my cause. “We should be a trick-or-treating neighborhood,” I’d say to anyone I happened to catch walking to their mailbox.

I was surprised to find that people weren’t as interested in the idea as I was. A woman a few doors down said she liked Halloween but she and her kids like going to her parents’ neighborhood to trick-or-treat. “My parents love seeing the kids dressed up,” she said. “We go to their house every year.”

One dad said he actually liked that our neighborhood doesn’t do trick-or-treating. He used to live in a big Halloween neighborhood and said that every October 31st, noisy, dry ice-filled haunted houses took over the street. “It’d be so crowded you couldn’t even pull out of your garage,” he said. “And teens would be making trouble all night.”

Still, I kept going: talking to everyone from the sweet old lady across the street to a couple of newlyweds on the corner. I even met a few fellow toddler moms. Some people said trick-or-treating on our own block would be convenient but most admitted they liked our quiet holiday the way it was.

I was disappointed. Everyone seemed so unfestive. “What’s the Halloween version of ‘Bah, Humbug?’” I asked my husband.

That year, my family went to our old neighborhood to trick-or-treat again, but this time, it felt strange to be there. As I looked up and down the street, I realized that while I would’ve liked to convince my neighbors to trick-or-treat, what I was truly looking for was a sense of community. I guess I assumed that a block with good trick-or-treating probably had friendly people: the kind who you could borrow a cup of sugar from, who might invite you over for a barbecue.

I didn’t have that feeling of community on my old street. At least, not anymore. But I was starting to feel it at the new place — even without the costumes and candy.

In my year of talking to my new neighbors about Halloween, I hadn’t changed any minds, but I had met just about everyone on the block and I made a handful of friends. My next-door neighbor and I like to get together for wine and cheese on my patio and I sometimes host play dates for other families on the block. In the end, I didn’t turn our cul-de-sac into a Halloween haven, but somewhere along my the way, I think I got what I really wanted.

This year, my family has decided to stay home on Halloween, but we’ve made up for it by going to a trunk-or-treat event, a Halloween carnival and a pumpkin patch earlier in the month. I have to admit: they were all a blast. Between bounce houses and crafts and cookie decorating, dare I say, it may have been more fun than going door-to-door. I started to think about the benefits of being in my non-trick-or-treating neighborhood: I wouldn’t need to fish candy wrappers out of my bushes, wouldn’t need to coax my daughter out of a candy coma on November 1st, plus, we’d been inspired to find fun, new events.

Not being in a trick-or-treating area, I decided, is something of a…well, treat.

Recently a co-worker asked what my family is doing on Halloween. A year ago, I would’ve ranted about my neighborhood’s lack of seasonal spirit. But instead, I just shrugged.

“My neighborhood doesn’t do trick-or-treating,” I said. “Never has.”

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