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November 01, 2006



Shades of 19th century halloween, when working class Irish immigrants would invade the homes of the genteel middle classes and drink their booze. Perhaps it's a minor example of how shared celebrations and festivals can mitigate against class divisions and the norms of propriety that go along with them, if just for a moment.

I'm just glad to see trick or treating is still alive and well. In some of the affluent North Seattle neighboorhoods I've lived in trick or treaters are almost non-existent. My current East Ballard location sees a smattering of them, more than most places, but I was beginning to wonder if the practice was dying out.


Good point about the past, DJW. It has an element of the "world-turned-upside-down" aspect of the traditional medieval Carnival.


I rather doubt that the wealthy residents perceive any 'obligation'. I also doubt they feel any 'real fear' of the parents or older kids. As you say, it's obvious why they're present--what's to be afraid of?

If the wealthy residents feel anything, it's probably pride in being able to shower the poor kids with expensive candies. That's not exactly feeling obliged.


I agree with mythago but have perhaps an even more cynical read on it. I used to live in an affluent neighborhood (not in LA though, where affluent = $2M homes) where poorer kids would come to trick or treat, and I actually sensed some resentment about "those people" being so calculating as to try to trick or treat someplace safe and with good candy. It would just be a serious faux pas to express that resentment in front of little costumed kids, but it's expressed once the door is closed.

And, if the parents stay at the end of the path and let their kids go up to the door themselves, it's hard to tell rich kids from poor kids when they're all in costumes, which makes it harder to discriminate against the poor kids even if you wanted to.

But, Hugo, you are an optimist and I am a pessimist, so the truth is probably somewhere in between. :)


I was in the Haight last night to go to a book signing, and the open shops were giving out candy. On my way home, I was on the bus with a large (5-8) number of parents with children who were all dressed up (quite well, IMO) who had been out trick-or-treating along the Haight. They were all from the same area, as they all got out at the same time. And it was not the nicest area in SF. (Not the worst, but not the best either.)

I don't know if there was any sense of obligation on the givers, but there certainly seemed to be appreciation from the recievers, especially the parents who could take their kids trick-or-treating on a well-light street.

I've also noticed this occurrence in the Bay Area, where kids go trick-or-treating at businesses early in the evening (light) and houses later at night, if at all. Is this something which is normal in more urban areas, which I, as a suburban child, never experienced?


25, 30 years ago when I was a kid, we used to do exactly the same thing. My mother would drive my sister and I to the wealthy neighborhood for trick-or-treating.


We have an opposite pattern here -- people who live in the McMansions will drive their kids to Greenbelt to trick-or-treat the rowhouses and townhouses, because with houses on 2 acre lots you walk yourself to death to get your candy.

Jonathan Dresner

I'd say, vis-a-vis DJW, that the tradition goes back a whole lot further than that, but it used to be a Christmas tradition (for Christians; Purim and Passover for Jews). Then Christmas turned into a "family" holiday instead of a community feast-day, so we shifted.


Brilliant post you wrote, Hugo. You were spot-on! I just hope the white folks did not discriminate against the hispanic kids.


I'm currently living in a college town and there isn't much trick-or-treating, which is fine with me... my parents never "did" Halloween (not sure if it was the pagan-festival part or the implied begging that turned them off more) and I don't either. Good night to go out for a movie, though.


Jonathan, confused: trick-or-treating is part of Purim?!


I've heard explicit discussions of this component of Mardi Gras in New Orleans - wealthy krewe members spend lots of money on costumes, trinkets, floats, etc. I remember about fifteen years ago when krewes were ordered to desegregate in order to parade, one of counter-argument against the proposal I heard was an expectation that people should not rock the boat -- "don't the people who are pushing for desegregation understand that we are contributing to the economy in ways that help the poor (black) people of New Orleans? If you force us to integrate, we just won't parade, and is that what you want?" As far as I know, though, only the Krewe of Comus stopped parading rather than integrate.


I remember the key to maximizing trick or treating was to go to the apartments and townhouses in good parts of town- because it was safe AND you get the most bang for the buck. There were 4-5 apartment complexes that were jammin' on Halloween, infested with candymongers, while my neighborhood was only moderately active.

I know where I live, we don't see any trick or treaters. None. We have no sidewalks either, people speed like crazy, and it's just not a safe place to walk from trafic perspective alone. The houses are way too far apart (I live in middle of nowhere) to boot.


A friend of mine made an excellent Zine about radical interpretations of halloween. One of the more interesting points he had was that it's one of the few modern holidays that still has some elements of "the world turned upside down", something that was a hallmark of medieval festivals.

There's a bit of it here:

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