Utah Field Guide: Trunk or Treat

In Utah, during the 1970s, Halloween was the first time we kids went into the night on purpose. Dressed as little ghouls, goblins, ghosts and witches, we braved the gloaming in wild, shrieking packs, fearless behind our masks and makeup, secure that this night was ours. We belonged in the chilly fall air, the breeze creaking the skeletal trees, leaves crunching underfoot. On this night, we were in cahoots with the things that go bump in the night and the shadowy creatures lurking under our beds. We junior demons could stride to our neighbors’ porches to demand candy with the threatening incantation: “trick or treat!!” Which truly meant, “Give me some candy, or I will vandalize your home.”

But somewhere along the line, like so many rites of childhood that flirt innocently with danger, Halloween—this reckless, daring, exciting Halloween—was tamed. Maybe mythical razor blades in the apples or the poison Pixy Stix legends made the roaches of anxiety run in our mothers’ minds and led us to the era of the trunk or treat.

What, you may ask, is a trunk or treat? Here it is: instead of running around the neighborhood banging on doors, all the ward kids gather in the church parking lot and trudge from car to car, gathering their approved weight in candy. It’s safer, you see. But the trunk or treat exorcizes all the thrill and darkness out of one of childhood’s most riotous good times.

It’s also exclusionary. Halloween was truly an ecumenical event. Every door was fair game—Mormon, Jewish, Catholic, Muslim—and each knock held the promise of more candy, the great leveler. It was the one time that, yeah, you could take candy from a stranger. I suspect, as the ward circles its wagons in safe solidarity, there are many gentile youngsters forlornly walking night streets, sad little pillowcases facing darkened porches. Where are the packs of children with which to join common cause? They are all at the church house, circulating from trunk to trunk, under the lights of the parking lot. And what of the adults with children all grown? Isn’t Halloween as much a time for grown-ups to enjoy the laughter of children as it is cause for kids’ laughter and delight?

Sigh. So go to the ward parking lot with your little princesses and pirates. Put them on the treadmill of obligatory holiday celebrations and, above all, make sure they are safe. I’ll be waiting for a knock on my door and that sing-song threat from the daring little ghosts and ghouls out there running in the wind that brushes the gossiping trees of autumn’s night.

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Jeremy Pugh
Jeremy Pughhttps://www.saltlakemagazine.com/
Jeremy Pugh is Salt Lake magazine's Editor. He covers culture, history, the outdoors and whatever needs a look. Jeremy is also the author of the book "100 Things to Do in Salt Lake City Before You Die" and the co-author of the history, culture and urban legend guidebook "Secret Salt Lake."

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