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Some of it is the evolution of demographics. We live in the house where my wife grew up, and there simply aren't any children in our neighbourhood anymore (count as of 8:34 pm: zero). As a result, hardly anyone gives out candy, so our kids ended up going over to the new subdivision where there are lots of young families.

Give out apples. You'll feel good, and when the kids come back early with their kitty, they can be recycled.

We live in an affluent downtown residential neighbourhood of a pretty big city. From 6:00-8:00 the street looks like bourbon street on Mardi Gras. Our low key decorated house ran out of candy by 7:10. 340 served. Next year we'll aim to serve 600. People one block away have served 1000. We have a few kids so we do alright on the balance. But we do see quite a few kids piling out of minivans so for sure our neighbourhood is in major deficit. And lots of those kids look like they come from neighbourhoods where kids can't just go round knocking on peoples doors. So why not. What's a party without guests.

K - wow. I hope you have a warm glow as orange as your low key pumpkin! The question is: do you think that Halloween is sustainable long term if it involves this degree of redistribution? The New York Times has an op-ed today about how Halloween is becoming a holiday for grown-ups - is there a connection? I'm also really curious about whether this is in Canada or the US.

Stephen, demographics is a part of the story in Hillsville too. A number of the houses there are still owned by their original owners - many of whom are in their 60s, 70s, or 80s. What I don't understand is: what are people doing if they're not giving out candy? Even if you only expect three kids, couldn't you just put out a plastic pumpkin and buy a few chocolate bars and give the surplus to the food bank? Why don't folks feel, like K does, that it's fun to host a party.

Just visiting - you're joking, right? Even here in Ottawa, we give out nothing that's not wrapped (though I'm still convinced all of those stories about razor blades in apples are just an urban myth). Even giving out candy that's not nut-free is concerned slightly anti-social behaviour.

Sure we love to see the neighborhood kids in their costumes. But tonight we had a bussed in kid who looked every bit the part of Michael Jackson do the moon walk on our front steps. The adult costumes (locals mostly - parents from out of the neighbourhood seem to lay low) seem to get wilder and wilder each year which also adds to the spectacle. Of course we get a few stragglers "dressed up as teenagers". I smile and hand over the candy (friends of ours hand out condoms after 9 - yes we're in Canada). But maybe if we got all hoods and no partyers, we'd feel differently. But as it is, the mix is highly favourable. Maybe other neighbourhoods have a different feel and the gains feel less reciprocal. For us, it isn't even close, and I can't imagine that it won't be sustained.

I live in a neighbourhood like K's, and we had 200 plus kids tonight. I think ironically the people who "lose" on Halloween are the neighbourhoods that don't have kids coming from other places - the places like where we grew up. Which suggests, perhaps, that the utility gained from a busy street packed with happy joyful children and parents is a lot greater than the cost of a few extra boxes of candies. In other words, the absence of reciprocity is that we're stealing their fun, not that they're stealing our candy.

Well said Alice.

If we're going to analyze trick or treating, what we need is a model to predict the number of trick and treaters, to help with efficient candy purchasing (the key financial benefit here would, of course, be to the health care cost reductions because of having fewer mountains of leftover candy to be consumed in offices across the country the next week.) I mean, this year our neighbourhood had more than double the previous record number of trick or treaters - there must have been a way to have seen that coming (given reliable census data to work with, of course).

Just visiting - you're joking, right?

Kinda. Today's equivalent might be a small box of raisins.

Well before text messaging, and even pocket calculators, word traveled pretty quickly on the street in my hood which houses were giving out the chocolate bars and bags of chips (both of which seemed bigger), and who was giving out the less desired treats. So, you ran past their drive.

I can also recall the soaping of windows and egging of doors. Wasn't sure if these were local phenomenon - a risk you faced if you were away or kept the lights dimmed - or just random pranks by young juveniles. My googling turned up a DesMoine Iowa story of Beggar's Night - an effort to sort of regulate the activity by one lady.

When Krieg assumed her post in 1931, kids on Halloween were more likely to clamor "Soaps or Eats" than "Trick or Treat." Every year the newspaper ran a long list on Nov. 1 of youths arrested the previous evening for crimes ranging from soaping windows and sidelining streetcars to setting fires and throwing bricks through windows...

After the war, Krieg continued to issue annual bulletins in the Register laying still more Beggar's Night ground rules, including that children should stay in their own neighborhoods and that parents should turn on their porch lights for trick-or-treaters and accompany small children on their rounds.


Final count: zero. And I agree with Alice - we would have been prepared to pay extra to have a steady stream of trick-or-treaters. Especially now that ours are now officially too big to go out.

Just visiting: even worse than raisins, black cat toffee.

I agree with Alice, Stephen, K and everyone else that it's much better to be in a neighbourhood with loads trick or treaters. In fact I'm tempted to delete this post entirely because it makes me seem such a mean and unpleasant person. But the discussion is interesting so I won't yet.

Some questions:

- if giving out candy is so much fun, why are there enough non-participating houses in neighbourhoods with older demographics (like Stephen's, or Hillsville) to make it worthwhile going elsewhere?

- has that underlying tension that Just Visiting talks about - soaps and eats v. trick or treats - completely disappeared?

- Is there any way of climbing out of a bad equilibrium where people are afraid to open their doors and kids are afraid to knock on doors?

- long-term consequences for the neighbourhoods that are losing out on the fun - and social capital formation - associated with Halloween?

By the way, we give out a mix of chocolate, rockets, and lollipops (bought on sale which is why the dollar figure is so low).

In fact I'm tempted to delete this post entirely because it makes me seem such a mean and unpleasant person. But the discussion is interesting so I won't yet.

Haha. I knew when I read it you'd be misinterpreted and get some "verbal egging". Good thing it wasn't posted on the NP :)

btw I was going to suggest that in neighbourhoods with low kid populations - they could have reverse (or Bizarro) Halloween where the registered kids dress up, sit in the front of their houses, and the homeowners drop by with the treats - but then I thought it might lead to candy drivebys for those homeowners in a hurry - so I dropped the idea :)

B.t.w., my oldest has just moved into a house with a bunch of friends. They carved a pumpkin and set it outside their front door - zero trick or treaters. They were so disappointed. So had a party and ate the candy.

I am assuming that there is different utility value experienced by people on this one. I noticed last night that one house in our neighborhood with a single adult occupant, no kids, was undecorated, lights out last night, clearly signaling GO AWAY. There were one or two other houses like that too (although I don't know their occupants). I don't think anything would have happened - the mood here is light and festive, with no soap or eggs I've ever seen/heard of - but obviously for that person it is a party that s/he doesn't want to participate in, doesn't feel part of or something. And if you get a critical mass of people like that, the party moves elsewhere. Surely though (says the non-economist) that is some sort of market efficiency - that the supply (of fun/party) moves to the demand?

"Some of it is the evolution of demographics. We live in the house where my wife grew up, and there simply aren't any children in our neighbourhood anymore (count as of 8:34 pm: zero). As a result, hardly anyone gives out candy, so our kids ended up going over to the new subdivision where there are lots of young families."

That's funny, because when I was a kid I grew up in an older subdivision with few kids and I remember getting armloads of candy from each house because there was no fear of them running out. You'd think the households would just buy less candy but it never seemed to work out that way.

You didn't give the impression that you were mean.  It's always good to take a slightly provocative slant, if you want to get a response.  I assumed that's what you were doing, and the rest of us were just giving the expected answers.  

I think you need a critical mass of local trick-or-treaters to get things going.  Lots of young families moved into our neighbourhood in the '90s.  Since then property values have risen, and the neighbourhood is ageing, with new residents being mostly middle aged.  That doesn't bode well for Halloween in 10 years.  I hope I'm wrong.

That said, I don't think it would be that difficult to get the party going if the neighbourhood is at all favourable.  Even one house with a major display + candy ought to help.  Coordinate two or three and start in mid October and you really raise the odds of success.

Alice - and yet (says the non-sociologist):

Party v. gift exchange is key.

Halloween as a big mardi gras type party has a very different social function from Halloween as a gift exchange between neighbours (it takes a village etc).

Perhaps it is that candy is so cheap ($10 for 95 mini chocolate bars) that the gift element of Halloween doesn't matter any more.

I'm just not sure the gift reciprocity has ever been candy for candy (i.e., you give to my kids, and I'll give to yours). Even without the party element, the reciprocity would seem to be more with respect to, e.g., trick for treat, or cute small baby in ridiculous fluffy costume for treat etc. You note this in your original comment by suggesting an exchange of kindness as being the form of reciprocity. So then the question is, in what circumstances will that exchange occur most efficiently, and that would seem to require, as K says, a critical mass of trick or treaters. I'm not sure, in other words, that in neighborhoods like ours is a different social function than the one you originally note, as much as it is a better functioning sort of exchange. And, then, I don't think it's that Halloween has ceased to be a good form of reciprocity, it is just that the reciprocity has clustered and works better for most participants (i.e., everyone except those who like Halloween and live in non-functioning neighborhoods).

Alice: "the reciprocity has clustered and works better for most participants (i.e., everyone except those who like Halloween and live in non-functioning neighborhoods)."

That's a pretty big exception.

Of course it's a big exception! Which is why the problem you originally posed - i.e., about the social capital of non-participating communities - is one worth asking.

In our neighbourhood Frances' description is more apt than Alice's: it's way more party than gift exchange.  The streets are packed.  You can't drive cars.  The neighbours across the street are blaring rock n roll (think Crazy Train with Ozzie's demonic opening laugh). Some parents in totally outrageous costumes.  The candy is mere party favours.  

Which makes me realize that Frances makes a good point about it becoming an adult event.  There's still room for cute babies (mostly before 6:30) but it's only the start of the fun.  I wonder if there are two thresholds:  One where there's enough local kids to make anything happen at all, and a second where the density of revelers causes a transition from a more dignified gift exchange to a carnival party.

Is there anything a parent or would be candy-giver living in Hillsville (trick or treaters=0, unless raccoons count) can do to reclaim some of that social capital? A big display as K suggested is impractical for various reasons. Realistically, on Halloween night the kids will go elsewhere, but there's pre-Halloween party possibilities. If we can figure out a solution, I can write a column before Halloween in the G&M next year.

I think we're still in the reciprocity stage (at least on our street - around the corner I think is more the party stage). Maybe you need to figure out which form of social capital is more realistic for Hillsville, and then design your initiative appropriately. I would note w.r.t. to Hillsville, btw, that the local mall has a big Halloween event. That may be another - and arguably more negative - form of loss of social capital, since you can't see that as a transfer of social capital from one neighborhood to another (or from one form - reciprocal exchange to a party - to another)

Alice, well that makes sense, perhaps there's a post to be done on malls and the privatization of public space. But still...

I'm getting the feeling that this is a bigger phenomenon than I realized.

We ran out of candy after 160+ trick-or-treaters last night. It seems the better the decorations and special effects get around our neighbourhood, the more visitors who come (the baby boom over the past 5-6 years has helped too).

In terms of social capital and reciprocity, Hallowe'en is a chance to meet the new neighbours who might not have kids (I took our 5 year old and 3 year old around) and reinforce ties with known neighbours (saying hi). There is some community building "capital" in that as well.

Some people do commute to our neighbourhood to trick-or-treat (because of the fun decorations, and number of houses that "go all out" when it comes to decorating). Maybe this is inter-neighbourhood diplomacy? To me in some ways it feels like part of the ancient tradition of welcoming visitors with hospitality just because it's the right thing to do, not because you expect anything in return.

Good post and discussion.

I think that architecture and urbanism are factors that make a successful neighbourhood. To make a simple story, mine is divided in three parts:
Southern-city: pre-war multistorey townhouse apartments (Triple decker), some kids live there, No trick or treaters.
Estern-city: 60's apartment buildings, some kids live there, No trick or treaters.
Middle-city: 1946-1960 owner-occupied detached houses, wealthier part of the neighbourhood, some kids live here, we get three times the expected number of trick or treaters...
It seems that trick-or-treat works mostly in typical suburban-style streets with owner-occupied detached houses on relatively small lot. They neither have to walk long distances or have to climb stairs to appartements.

I grew up in a small village. Our run was geographically constrained: we did all houses in the village. Now I wonder what determines the run of the kids in a city too big to be entirely done. Do they set themselves a time limit or stop when they got their target level of Candy?

Mercure, yup, I would bet that's probably a pretty spot on description of the trick or treating hot spots.

I think it's a combination of time limits, candy targets (fill up the bag), and also after a while it's just tiring - the candy is too heavy to carry. and with snow on the ground it can get a bit cold.

Wendy - in some ways it's the ultimate compliment - "your neighbourhood is perfect for trick or treating."

When I was 10 years old, my candy target would have been "to the infinity and beyond!".

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