For NYC Natives, Halloween Has Never Been Traditional

Growing up in the city means celebrating Halloween in non-traditional ways.

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A child stands on a fence while watching the Tompkins Square Dog Costume Parade. (Photo by Katie Peurrung)

By Elena Fox, Contributing Writer

In the suburbs, Halloween is marked by community-neighborhood competitions for best decorated house and trick-or-treating adventures with friends from school. But not everyone grows up in the suburbs. For those who were raised in the boroughs of New York City, the tradition of Halloween is a lot less traditional. 

Instead of neighbors and friends, native New Yorkers hold fond memories of store employees doling out spooky sweets. Gallatin sophomore Kaylee Lamarche, a Bronx native, explained the uniqueness of the holiday in the concrete jungle. 

“The experience trick-or-treating in New York City, like in a city environment, is really strange because you don’t really go to people’s houses,” she said. “It’s weird because I would go to Dunkin’ Donuts and be like, ‘Hello,’ and they would give me a munchkin.”

Though some were satisfied with scoring a free cookie or donut from the local store, others felt these activities lacked holiday spirit. 

“It wasn’t a very personal experience,” CAS senior Kathy Huot said about trick-or-treating in her Fordham neighborhood in the Bronx. “It wasn’t like you knew the people you lived next to.”

Paloma Zarzecka, a CAS sophomore who grew up in Brooklyn, attributed the lack of spirit to the fact that New York City does not cater well to children on Halloween. 

“Most places that don’t have houses don’t give out candy; it’s things like pennies, crayons stuff like that,” she said. “Some places have signs that say no trick-or-treaters allowed because they don’t have anything.”

One of the largest challenges of trick-or-treating in New York City, however, is the safety of the children, explained Huot. “There’s a thing with safety and a thing with isolation because there’s a lot of people in one area but you don’t necessarily know these people [and] you don’t know what their intentions are,” she said. 

Aside from just the non-residential and unprotected feel of Halloween in the city, what NYU first-years will soon discover is that in New York, trick-or-treating is not necessarily the go-to activity. In Manhattan especially, there are parades, parties and park festivities around every corner.

“There was always some type of event going on circling [big] holidays — like parades and huge, huge events, to the extent where people watch it on TV — like the Thanksgiving [sic] Parade,” Lamarche said. “Stuff like that that I feel is invaluable to creating an atmosphere.”

While events like the Halloween Parade are quintessentially New York, many communities are still trying to bring more traditional celebrations to the city for the children. According to Zarzecka, big trick-or-treating destinations like Prospect Park in Brooklyn are packed with families on Halloween. The brownstone homes host block parties, inviting everyone to join the festivities. Some blocks even compete with others to see whose decorations are the biggest and attract the most trick-or-treaters — just like a good ‘ol suburban neighborhood. 

Though it may not be easy to pinpoint on the surface, it is possible to recognize small parts of the typical small-town experience in New York City’s Halloween. But even if you don’t go ringing your neighbor’s doorbell, there is something endearing about doing it a little differently. 

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 29 print edition. Email Elena Fox at [email protected]