Nostalgia is a fun-house mirror, so any claims that “back in my day, we went trick-or-treating until midnight with no parental supervision,” while kids these days are forced to make do with half an hour of highly supervised trick-or-treating before sunset, are surely a distortion.
Still, it seems like the tradition of going door-to-door demanding candy is not quite what it used to be for many U.S. families. Over the past couple of years, as Halloween has come and gone, low turnout in their neighborhoods has led people to wonder annually on social media if trick-or-treating is dying. Local news outlets across the country have also reported anecdotal observations of fewer trick-or-treaters in their communities.
“I always count how many trick or treaters we get, because my mom did that growing up, and we get fewer than 10 every year,” says Castina Wingard, a 30-year-old stay-at-home mom who lives in Silver Spring, Maryland. “We have tons of kids in our neighborhood. Our lights are on, and we have jack-o’-lanterns out, and nobody really comes to our door.”
It may well be that some of these observers just aren’t around when local kids are trick-or-treating. Many cities have official trick-or-treating hours that may fall on a weekend rather than October 31, or which end in the early evening. And as CityLab recently reported, some towns even have ordinances forbidding teenagers to trick-or-treat, significantly cutting the eligible candy-grubbing population. But there are some other forces that may be diverting kids away from the sidewalks and leading them to seek candy elsewhere. What seems to be happening, to misappropriate the law of conservation of mass, is that the amount of trick-or-treaters remains the same—it’s just that trick-or-treating itself is changing its shape.