As a child, Eric Vallejo waited in nervous anticipation for Halloween night when he could don a spooky mask, gather with his friends and fill his pillowcase with candy.
The 22-year-old Hartselle resident, who was reluctant to give up trick-or-treating as a teenager, said issues of safety never entered his mind. “I always looked forward to going to strangers’ houses, looking at all the people dressed up and playing around with them,” he said. “It was the one time of year that my parents didn’t care about me doing that.”
Last year, about 41 million children ages 5 to 14 went trick-or-treating, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Vallejo’s generation may be one of the last to embrace trick-or-treating as an annual Halloween event with the development of trunk-or-treats and organized parties at churches and businesses.
Cathy Strom, of Central Baptist Church in Decatur, is organizing a church-wide trunk-or-treat and fall festival Wednesday to replace traditional Halloween for children and adults.
Strom, who said Halloween was the “high point” of her year as a child, believes safety has become a greater concern among parents.
“Some individuals really feel like the whole Halloween event is inappropriate, and that it has connotations that are not Christian,” she said. “People are more and more aware of things that could happen when you venture out into the community.”
Decatur Police spokesman John Crouch said there has been no noticable increase in traffic accidents, violence, tampered candy, child abductions or other crimes associated with Halloween in recent years.
Crouch said most drivers are more cautious of trick-or-treaters and pedestrians walking through residential areas on Halloween.
“If anything, the increased foot traffic during trick-or-treating hours serves to decrease crime, especially in the age of cellphones and having many more members of the public on the street,” he said.
Athens Police Chief Floyd Johnson said criminal mischief arrests are most common on Halloween night.
“As a rule, it’s not much different than any other day, but some years, you have more cases than you do others,” he said. “Back in 2005, we had a murder, but I don’t know if you can tie that just to the day or tie that to Halloween.”
David Skal, author of “Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween,” said trick-or-treating took off in the 1950s after World War II as a social activity among neighbors.
“It was part of the way that people got to know each other in the suburbs,” he said. “It was a new social ritual, but we’re not so eager to talk to our neighbors anymore.”
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks and anthrax scare, Skal said fears about Halloween, poisoned candy and violence became more widespread among parents and grandparents in the U.S.
“There has always been this fear of trick-or-treating,” he said. “There are the urban legends of poisoned candy, and the Halloween movies didn’t really help either. They were very popular, but perpetuated this myth that Halloween is a very dangerous time for young people.”
Town Creek resident Joseph Cook grew up watching horror movies and associated Halloween with the actors in his favorite films.
Cook said he looks forward to introducing his 3-year-old daughter, Stokelee, to trick-or-treating this year.
“I was always big on horror movies and stuff, and it was always fun for me to be one of the characters,” he said.
The National Retail Federation predicts a record 170 million U.S. residents will celebrate Halloween, with the average person spending $79 on decorations, costumes and candy.
Grace Wilhite, of Hartselle, said she grew up trick-or-treating, but her family doesn’t plan to give out candy this year.
“People don’t want to spend the money on it and don’t want to buy candy and deal with people coming to their door,” she said. “Now, with jobs and stuff, people just can’t afford it.”
David Carter, children and young families pastor at First Baptist Church in Athens, hosted a large trunk-or-treat celebration Sunday that was open to the community.
For 10 years, the church has organized the event, which draws up to 2,500 residents looking for a controlled Halloween experience.
“Parents find it easier to go to one spot, and then head on home after an hour or so,” he said. “A lot of people come for the candy and to have a good time with the family. It’s just a great way to get out and take pictures of the kids having fun.”
Skal said Halloween yard decorations have increased in recent years as a creative and competitive outlet for families with children.
“Halloween is a continually shifting kind of holiday,” he said. “Fifty years from now, Halloween will still be around but will be something different than it was 50 years before. We have an innate need for annual celebrations.”
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