“Today is Halloween, October 31. Tonight is the traditional night for “trick or treat” – considerably milder than what it used to be. Actually, the trick part started out a century or so ago as a way of youngsters playing somewhat harmless pranks on adults in their area – taking a gate off its hinges, tipping over an outhouse, and other irritating but essentially harmless activities.
Then, we got to the treat which actually was a little good-natured extortion – give us candy and we won’t do anything nasty to your property. That has long since been lost and now, trick or treat is just an expression that people use as greeting for candy when they approach someone’s door (home or business).
Clearly, the world has evolved from the time when getting candy was quite rare to where it is readily available. The idea of a special day to go around to homes in the neighborhood and beg for candy really has lost its meaning in contemporary context. Nevertheless, the tradition continues.
So, how does going from house-to-house, at dusk, and into the darkness pertain to aging in place? It illustrates a couple of factors that we want to be aware of as we look at this date. Actually, safety is at the root of this concern. Halloween could easily be relabelled as “Home Safety Awareness Day” because of the implications involved.
Safety concerns involve three aspects in this context. First, it concerns the kids. Second, it involves the yard the kids are entering and the streets and sidewalks nearby. Third, there is a concern for the residents of the homes that the kids are calling on for treats. As for the kids, they dress up in costumes they are unaccustomed to wearing – some are leaving home in them for the first time. Those outfits, in addition to being unfamiliar to the children, may appear dark or non-reflective and hard for others (such as motorists or adults) to see well. This can present issues while they are walking and also while they are at the homes they are visiting.
Those costumes can have other issues. They may too large for the children wearing them, causing them to step on loose parts of them or to become entangled in them. The eye holes on masks or head coverings may be too small or may slip down on their faces and obscure their vision – causing them to walk into objects or miss a step or curb. Those costumes may be poorly ventilated because of the material they are made of and lead to the wearers of them becoming overheated.
Not seeing things in their path that they would see in the daytime or with vision that was not hindered by a mask or face covering can lead to unintended safety concerns. The residents of the homes the children are visiting aren’t necessarily aware of all of the risks of kids walking up to their home at night or walking across the lawn. This is largely unfamiliar territory for them and one that they may not have prepared for properly. The residents of the homes are looking out for themselves and people they know might be visiting, but they may not have planned well for children visiting them in the dark. Their sidewalks and yards may not be illuminated that well, and some children may be visiting these homes for the first time. This may not be an area they have thought about much or considered. We can help with general visitability in terms of the approach and lighting – for everyone including children on Halloween – but that won’t do any good for this year.
Lastly, having children dressed up and disguised in costumes ringing their doorbell or approaching their front door may be a lot for some people to accept. Depending on the noise generated by the children, their manners, their general demeanor, and their physical size relative to the people they are calling upon, some older people may not be especially comfortable with this situation even though they have dealt well with it in the past or have forgotten since last year what the experience would be like.
Also, the people whose homes are being visited may become anxious about having children walking across their lawns, stepping on their flower beds or landscaping, or leaving candy wrappers on the grass or sidewalk (from treats they are eating along the way). They may just become overwhelmed by the number of children visiting in a short amount of time. They often are the late arrivals – those who come at the end after most of the activity is over – that might startle residents because they have gone inside their homes and gone back to their routines, adjusting to the holiday being over.