Trunk-or-Treat: My dad’s favorite Halloween tradition

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Every year on the day before Halloween, my elementary school would put on Trunk-or-Treat. The event called for parents to decorate the inside of their car trunks, park in a long row against the school’s wall and hand out candy to students dressed up in costumes.

There wasn’t much to the event, but we were a school of only 35 students total, located in the farmland of the Northern California coast where nothing ever really happened. So, events like Trunk-or-Treat felt kind of like when the Cal Bears football team actually wins: a big moment in history.

To my fellow classmates, Trunk-or-Treat was a stress-free event. It was an opportunity to obtain even more candy than you normally would during Halloween, a chance to help decorate your parent’s car trunk with cobwebs, plastic spiders and carved pumpkins, as well as a chance to compare whose parents had the best candy. Trunk-or-Treat, however, was never this simple for my sister and me because it wasn’t just a chance for us to dress up; it was also a chance for our dad to do the same. 

On the day of Trunk-or-Treat every year, my dad would call in sick to work and lock himself in the garage for the entire day, all in order to come up with a new costume idea. To him, Trunk-or-Treat wasn’t just about throwing a bag of fake cobwebs around his trunk — it was an opportunity to channel all of his creative energy into a single night, and maybe embarrass his daughters a little at the same time. 

Take the year my dad dressed up as a retro basketball player. Somehow he found himself an old green basketball uniform from the ‘80s in my elementary school’s back closet, and of course, paired it with striped tube socks, some reflective sunglasses, a curly white wig and to top it all off, a cheesy mustache. Standing proudly before a basketball hoop, he required the students to make a shot or they wouldn’t be given any candy to add to their bags. 

Another year, he dressed up as a presidential candidate. He set up a table. On one side was a photo of John McCain and a bucket of Brussels sprouts. On the other side was a photo of Barack Obama and a bucket of raisins. And in the middle was a photo of himself and a bucket of candy. Whoever’s bucket was empty at the end of the night won the presidency. My dad even went as far as to print out stickers labeled, “Vote for Jeff, a Grand Slam for America.”

But maybe the wildest year of them all was the time when my dad decided to dress up as a ballerina. After finding a massive refrigerator box from who knows where, buying a pink tutu, stealing my own ballet shoes and putting Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite” on replay on our DVD player, my dad was transformed into a ballerina in a magical jewelry box. 

Picture it — next to the other parents, who wore witch hats and butterfly wings seated in lawn chairs by their semidecorated car trunks, was my dad, dressed as a ballerina in a massive box spinning in circles to classical music. I can’t even remember if he handed out candy that year. 

They loved it — my classmates, my classmates’ parents, my teachers and even the school priest. Everyone loved him. My dad was the king of Trunk-or-Treat; a celebrity at my small-town school. And each and every year, the anticipation of what Emily’s dad would dress up as grew, along with my own anxieties of what else he could come up with behind the closed doors of our garage. 

But the thing was, at the end of the night, my belly full with Reese’s Pieces and Almond Joys, I was only ever a little embarrassed. Because although seeing my dad in a tutu was never ideal, my dad was also the one who made Trunk-or-Treat the event of the year. He was the one who made the small-town school of 35, located among the rural farms of Northern California, light up with Halloween spirit. He was the one who turned a sleepy school event into one of humor and memories. He taught everyone at the school that no matter the occasion, the event or location, creativity can exist. Because of him, I will always be excited every time Halloween rolls around. 

Emily Denny is the blog editor. Contact Emily Denny at [email protected].