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Don't Close the Door on Halloween Tradition

Ignore urban myths -- let the kids have fun.

October 26, 2002|Linda Williamson | Linda Williamson is a freelance writer in Granada Hills.

Last Halloween, I witnessed a trick-or-treat phenomenon I didn't remember from my childhood. When I looked out of my pumpkin- and candle-bedecked windows, I saw kids being dropped off in minivan-loads. They'd pile out of their parents' cars, hit a few houses and pile back in again to be shuttled to the next stop.

My first assumption was that these kids must be lazy. But a short trek around the block revealed the real problem. Very few houses in the neighborhood had their porch lights on, and even fewer had any specifically welcoming signs like ghosts or jack-o'-lanterns. I realized that any kid traveling by sidewalk would have to walk for blocks to collect a halfway decent sack of candy.

Fear-mongering, well-publicized kidnappings and shootings and persistent urban folk tales about razor blades in apples have had a cumulative, erosive effect on the trick-or-treat tradition, and it seems in danger of extinction right alongside the milkman, hitchhiking and neighbors who know your name and say hello.

Instead of going from door to door in the neighborhood, many parents are opting for the controlled environment of private Halloween parties.

This change is another sign that as a culture, we're becoming more and more afraid of each other. That's a shame, because the vast majority of people are no less decent than they were in the "good old days," whenever those may have been.

It's not that people are suddenly endangering children more often. It's just that in our information-saturated time, we hear about it more often and more quickly when something goes amiss.

Use our abundant Information Age resources to combat fear: Go on the Internet and look up "The Razor Blade in the Apple: The Social Construction of Urban Legends." Two Southern Illinois University professors researched newspaper articles and emergency room records dating back to 1958 and found that the myth of the "Halloween sadist" who gave out tainted candy to random children was bunk. The only Halloween poisonings they uncovered were, sadly, by a few people who found an opportunity to harm their own children.

Those people are few. The vast majority of people love their kids. And if you're one of these, why not take this opportunity to dress them up, march them up to every door in your neighborhood and let the folks fawn over them? While you're there, say hello and introduce yourself.

Don't have kids? Open your door on Halloween. It's only one night a year, only lasts about few hours and it's a great way to get to know your neighbors. And a neighborhood full of people who know each other is a safer neighborhood. Take a chance. Halloween isn't as scary as you think.

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