I’ve never liked Halloween, even when I was a kid.
I hated sweets (except for Reese’s Cups, I’m not an idiot), feared scary decorations, didn’t really enjoy dressing up, and honestly looked forward to Halloween the least of any holiday.
As I have grown up, I have learned to dislike Halloween for a multitude of other reasons—the ways it drives our consumption by convincing us our kids need brand new $40 costumes every year, the religious misconceptions about the holiday, the statistically false paranoia about candy poisoning, the increase in pedestrian incidents as drivers neglect to slow down for kids— but most of all, for the snowballing trend of ‘Halloween tourism’ where kids now go to shopping malls or rich neighbourhoods, leaving their next-door neighbours to a sad and quiet night looking out the window with a final tally of 6 kids.
I work with the Federation of Calgary Communities and lead the ActivateYYC program that provides microgrants for community-led public improvement projects (think community gardens, tetherball poles, murals, or temporary traffic calming measures). As summer ended and I began to see Halloween decorations and candy hit the shelves of my local supermarkets (far too early, I might add) I decided to reflect on my long-held hatred of Halloween.
With all the work I’d done this year in community development and neighbourhood activation, I started to see the holiday through a new lens and realized the many ways that Halloween is an important opportunity for connection in every neighbourhood in the city.
The purpose of my work is to get neighbours together to do great things in their community.
So, much of the battle is getting neighbours to connect and get to know each other, and stats reflect that we have been losing trust and connection with our neighbours over generations. While 70 per cent of those over the age of 75 trust their neighbours, only 43 per cent of people ages 15-24, feel the same (Stats Canada, 2022). While we may be a part of the population that trusts our neighbours most nights, some people feel Halloween is a night that causes an increase in crime and mischief. There is an average four per cent decrease in crime on October 31st, compared to October 24th (Stats Canada, 2017).
As spooky as Halloween can be, it’s one of the most unique days of the year where doors are open, trust and connection can be fostered, kids are free to roam, people are buying candy with their own money to make other kids happy, and neighbours finally get to meet their neighbours face to face, instead of just waving from behind their windshields.
Here are my suggestions for ways to “Keep Halloween Neighbourly”:
- Stay in your neighbourhood. It can be enticing to go to the richer area, a safer feeling area, or over to a well-known friend’s house. But Halloween is the one night of the year when you have an excuse to connect with your neighbours and be a part of the energy of your community.
- Don’t be wasteful. Make a costume with what you already own, get creative, or even ask neighbours if they have a costume that they might be ready to hand down.
- Decorations are optional. You don’t need an 8-foot-skeleton or inflatable pumpkin to get into the Halloween spirit. Save your cash and instead, keep your lights on, buy some candy, and get to know the names (and even exchange phone numbers) of your neighbours. Better yet, if weather permits, put a campfire out on the driveway and create a space for parents to warm up while their kids sweat it out running up and down the street.
- Be creative and inclusive. If you live in a housing type that you don’t think is optimal for trick or treating (maybe an apartment or basement suite), consider finding an alternative such as on the front lawn or coordinating with your apartment neighbours to organize something together in the lobby. Also, as always, be kind and patient with the visitors you get to your front steps, you never know the challenges or obstacles the kid might be overcoming to make the journey to your door.
- DRIVE SLOW AND WITH EXTREME CAUTION while going through residential areas. Community care is required on nights when little ones are out on the streets, and accidents can be avoided with proper awareness and caution.
Whether you hate Halloween or absolutely love it (I’m somewhere in between now), Halloween is a great excuse to create neighbourliness and connect with the people you share a postal code with. Connected communities are safer and more enjoyable to live in, and there’s nothing spooky about that!
- Adam Schwartz is a community activator with the Federation of Calgary Communities (@fedyyc on IG), and a program lead of ActivateYYC (@activateyyc on IG). He is passionate about connecting neighbours together to do great things for their communities and holds a Masters in Planning for the School of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape from the University of Calgary.