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Ingrid Skeels

Halloween: Reclaiming Streets and Building Community

posted this in Community, Street Space on 30/10/2018

Clocks have gone back, nights are drawing in, and the festival that children love will soon be here! Halloween is a huge mixture of pagan and new traditions, of ritual and commercialism. But, love it or hate it, I’ve learnt that Halloween can provide more for children than sweets and treats.

Meeting neighbours

Halloween might be a bit spooky, with surprises round every corner, but children can also get to knock on doors and say hello to people they know and don’t know, in a safe, friendly and organised way. Our community in Bristol has adopted a tradition of leaving a symbolic lantern outside your house if you’re willing to be called upon and it ensures a friendly reception. It also saves people who don’t want to take part in Halloween from being bothered, which is equally important.

Learning independence

When my children were small, we started trick or treating with friends, with us parents there too, hanging back and over-seeing. Our group of children got taught to knock on doors and answer friendly questions from people they didn’t know (‘and who are you dressed as..?’) and to say thank you for any treats they got: the rightful biggest bug bear of anyone dolling out sweets!

As they got older – dressed over the years as skeletons, ghosts, bad fairies and all kinds of weird things – they began to go alone in groups of friends, still doing the same route and going early in the evening. Finally as young teenagers, they went later and further, and the dressing up became as much about impressing each other as cool witches or masked ghouls as it was about the treats.

Reclaiming streets for children

Sheffield’s Thriller Flash Mob

Have you noticed that when enough people are walking through streets for a joint purpose, a festival or a football match, suddenly the balance tips and it’s OK to walk in the street and make traffic come second for a change? Halloween brings some of this positive anarchy to our community’s streets, and it feels good: the one night that most people drive carefully with an eye out for wandering children. Why can’t it always be like this?


Getting to know your patch

All of these things together mean that over their years of growing up, Halloween has helped my children to feel a bigger sense of belonging in their immediate community and a sense of “this is my place”.

And what about us adults taking part? Many of us remember Halloween as a simpler festival, with lanterns and apple bobbing and only the beginnings of trick-or-treating and commercialism. But those were also simpler times for children in terms of playing out, independence and community.

By lighting a lantern and getting in some sweets to welcome local children, or children who visit because there aren’t many trick or treat friendly residents where they live, we’re also keeping other important things alive.

Happy Halloween everyone!

We’d love to hear what you think and see your Halloween photos especially any that show the above!

(This great video of a Thriller flashmob of all ages truly reclaiming a Sheffield street was shared to our Facebook Group just before this blog was originally published – Thanks to Kate West of Family Voice)

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