They come in by the minivan-load.
Take a look at those license plates — these Halloween carpetbaggers are clearly not from the neighborhood. Some of them are just teenagers with pillowcases and no costumes!
Is it okay to go trick-or-treating in another neighborhood? That’s the Halloween soul-searching we are collectively doing this year.
I live on Capitol Hill. And East Capitol Street on Halloween is the closest the District comes to Mardi Gras. Same thing happens in Georgetown and at least a dozen other neighborhoods known for going off like Roman candles on Oct. 31.
I get it; it can get old. The residents of these neighborhoods have to buy about 50 bags of candy — and those last only if they parsimoniously hand out just one piece at a time — every year.
Some of the carpetbaggers are poor kids whose parents are looking for safer, more affluent streets to take their kids. And some are middle- and high- schoolers trying to score as much candy as possible, crushing the wings of many a Pottery Barn fairy in the process.
Let’s be honest here. A lot of this is about race and class, about the haves and the have-nots.
This conversation about other kids coming in — which has been traded over fences and on neighborhood Internet mailing lists for years now — became louder this fall, thanks to a letter answered in the Slate advice column Dear Prudence, where a one-percenter complains that kids from poorer neighborhoods are storming their wrought-iron gates, demanding candy.
Prudie tartly and expertly slammed the letter writer, suggesting the kids might consider bringing along pitchforks this year. Three years ago, the same columnist told a suburban mom sick of all the neighborhood dads getting hammered while sipping cocktails from their Thermoses during the trick-or-treat crawl to get in the car and go to another neighborhood.
See, you never know why outsiders are in your ’hood.
Could also be because we’ve scared ourselves out of trick-or-treating, with so many urban-legend poison candy and razor-blade apple tall tales, some neighborhoods simply go dark on Halloween. Or in other cases, kids in rural areas head into town, where there are more homes.
But the main reason — and the main reason it wigs out some of the one-percenters — is because poor families with trick-or-treaters want, for just a day, what others have: a safe street. The kind of neighborhood where knocking on a door isn’t a gamble. The kind of neighbors who can afford a $5 bag of sweets to give to others.
The poor going to the rich on holidays isn’t anything new. Going back to about 1000 A.D., the Celtic poor would visit the homes of wealthy folks to get “soul cakes” on Halloween. The poor would pray for the souls of the rich in exchange for the cakes.
“This kind of ritual, begging from house to house, there’s always the element of class and respectability connected to it,” said Jack Santino, professor of cultural studies at Bowling Green State University in Ohio and a Halloween expert.
And of course, remember, there is the possibility of a trick. “There is a veiled threat.” he said. “Halloween has always had the quality of danger and disruption to it. And all of those attempts to control it, to modify it, I think the class element is there.”
In the neighborhoods that draw the biggest Halloween crowds, some folks get upset. One Washington-area parent complained on the DC Urban Moms and Dads Internet mailing list about the onslaught of folks who have crushed her sweet little community’s party.
“It went from being a local neighborhood party where you saw your friends’ kids, caught up with old friends, and occasionally offered them a beer — to being a big “free candy festival” for up to 300 people from outside the neighborhood,” the poster moaned. “If you drop your kids off at my door, but there is no intention of reciprocity, then you’re a user.” Generous sentiment there, right?
Neighborhood cherry-picking on Halloween has become so common that at least one app is designed to home in on neighborhood hot spots. Nextdoor pops up a little graphic candy corn on the Treat Map’s best houses.
This year Zillow issued a list of the 20 best cities for trick-or-treating, triangulating neighborhoods using data for home value, walkability, crime and population density.
Washington came in at number 13, with Georgetown, Takoma, American University Park, Chevy Chase and Friendship Heights being the best. All of them, not surprisingly, are the kind of safe, affluent communities likely to attract Halloween carpetbaggers from tougher parts of town.
Does this make Halloween the new black light that illuminates our social fissures? Maybe.
I totally understand folks who don’t want teens without costumes demanding a sugar fix. You can always choose not to answer the door to hordes of high schoolers. But if you’re sick of buying extra candy for younger kids you don’t know? Get over it. It’s only candy, and your monthly wireless budget is probably more than most of these kids’ families spend on food.
Imagine living in a neighborhood where it’s too dangerous to knock on a door at night, or next to neighbors who are too poor to buy a bag of candy. We can do better than have resentment about this.
Our family is proudly hosting four carpetbagging kids this year. They are coming to our neighborhood for a variety of reasons that drove them from their own, including safety and Halloween dead zones.
So if you happen to see a little Secret Service agent at your door, a 10-year-old who has never been trick-or-treating before because his neighborhood isn’t good for it? Give him a few extra Snickers instead of grumbling.
8For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.