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What Is Trunk or Treat?

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A cobweb-covered skeleton leaning out the window makes for a simple but fun trunk or treat decoration!

A cobweb-covered skeleton leaning out the window makes for a simple but fun trunk or treat decoration!

What Is Trunk or Treating?

During trunk or treat events adults decorate the back of their cars for Halloween, load up on candy, and come sit in a parking lot for kids to "trick or treat" from car-to-car. It's more fun than it sounds, trust me! Sometimes kids come in the hundreds, fully dressed in Halloween costumes and holding out bags or plastic pumpkins for treats. The adults get to socialize and be creative while seeing all the cute and scary costumes.

How Does Trunk or Treating Work?

About a month beforehand, the host of the trunk or treat event will start collecting volunteers. Sometimes the parking spaces are limited, so be sure to get in on the fun as quickly as possible!

While the volunteers are buying candy and planning decorations in preparation for this Halloween fun, the host will possibly be sending around a participant sign-up sheet (such as at a church or school) or posting online. Trunk or treat is often an RSVP event for the kids. That way there's no risk of running out of candy as the volunteers will know approximately how many trick-or-treaters to expect.

When the big night comes the cars are given specific spots to line up in. They will form an area through which the kids can safely run around and beg for candy. Some of the car decorations and displays can be quite elaborate, requiring hours of setup time in advance.

When the kids arrive, the real fun begins. They'll usually be told to go in a certain order and they'll say "trick or treat!" and collect their candy just like at houses on Halloween night! There may be other games, crafts, or activities to be found as well.

Another Trunk or Treat idea: set up a graveyard around and in your car.

Another Trunk or Treat idea: set up a graveyard around and in your car.

How to Organize Your Own Trunk or Treat

  1. Planning: Gather the support of volunteers to assist you with preparing for the event, facilitating activities, and clean-up. Pick a parking lot that will have adequate space and will cause minimal disruption. Cultural centers or libraries would work nicely. This should go without saying, but obviously get permission from the owner of the lot, as well as be sure to obtain any city permits that might be necessary for the event. Arrange for trash bins and for floodlights if lighting won’t be readily available. Don’t forget your Halloween-themed music as well as goodies to hand out to kids like school supplies, bracelets, balloons, and stickers.
  2. Establish Ground Rules: Ensure that the event will be a safe and inviting one for families. Make it clear that children must be accompanied by an adult. Do not allow alcohol or drugs and be sure to consider potential allergies. Suggest (or even require) that adults dress up in a costume and decorate their trunk.
  3. Spread the Word: You know the drill! Once you establish a date, time, and official details for your trunk or treat, spread the word! Utilize social media, local newspapers, the radio, fliers, and school announcements - whatever works within your budget and for your needs.
This blow-up haunted mansion archway in front of a trunk was the kids' favorite at this Trunk or Treat!

This blow-up haunted mansion archway in front of a trunk was the kids' favorite at this Trunk or Treat!

Where to Find a Trunk or Treat Event

Check out your local school websites and your town's newspaper, for starters. Trunk or treat is a popular activity for elementary schools to host for their own students. A lot of churches get in on the fun too and their trunk or treat is generally open to the public. And of course community centers are a likely place to find this new form of trick-or-treating, sometimes offered as a safer alternative to the traditional free-for-all in the streets.

While trunk or treat events are normally no cost to attend, be sure to check ahead of time. If it functions as a fundraiser or is hosted by a non-profit cause then there may be a donation item or small ticket purchase required.

Trunk or Treat Decorating Ideas

This is the fun for the adults! If you have no yard, a small yard, or have already filled your yard to the street with Halloween decorations, then this is a brand new opportunity to add more festivity to the world. You have to get creative since it's such a small space to work with, but the results can be either adorable or spooky depending on your liking. Here are a few quick trunk or treat ideas.

  • Pick a theme! Spiders? Mummies? Monsters?
  • Bring in balloons for a creepy clown circus or a monster bash!
  • Take advantage of your car's CD player and play scary sounds or Halloween songs like "Monster Mash" at this year's trunk or treat event.
  • If you have inflatable Halloween decorations, check to see if the property can accommodate you plugging in to an outlet. You may be able to power them up and place them in front of your car's trunk for an instant effect.
  • String cobwebs down from the trunk! You can create or buy a giant spider decoration and place it on top of your car.
  • Stick a skeleton in the driver's seat and have it waving to people walking by, or press a scary mask up against the window to look out on the kids.
  • Don't forget the ground around your car! Presumably you'll have a little extra space to move around your car as well as a spot near your trunk to sit while passing out candy. There may be space to stand a creepy creature of some sort or stage a spooky scene.


Besides décor (and of course, candy!), you may wish to bring along the following:

  • Water to drink. It can be a long night!
  • A fog machine to add atmosphere.
  • Balloons to draw attention to your car.
  • A costume for yourself!
  • A blanket or sweater. It can get pretty chilly just sitting still in late October.
  • A friend, spouse, or family member. You're welcome to try to set up a trunk or treat scene on your own, but between décor and handing out candy, you're liable to want some help!
This adult dressed up as Jason Voorhees for Halloween and became a prop in his Trunk or Treat display.

This adult dressed up as Jason Voorhees for Halloween and became a prop in his Trunk or Treat display.

Does Trunk or Treating Replace "Real" Trick or Treating?

Many people assume trunk or treating takes place on Halloween night, that it only exists as a bit of a buzzkill to kids racing through the neighborhood trying to scoop up as much candy as possible in one glorious evening. This isn't necessarily true! You can still be a fan of the original way to trick or treat while participating in a trunk or treat event.

Some parents and community members do feel that trunk or treating is safer than going house to house and collecting candy from strangers. If you live where traditional trick or treating just isn't safe or where it's impractical (such as in a town of far-spread homes), this really works great as a trick or treating alternative.

But otherwise, why make it an "instead?" There's always plenty of room in the world for Halloween celebrations! Trunk or treating is no exception and can occur any night leading up to Halloween or even during the daytime. In fact, it's often held a week or so before the 31st which allows kids to get two times the fun.

Benefits of Trunk or Treating

  • Deemed safer than normal trick or treating because you are less likely to encounter strangers.
  • It is more convenient for parents because parents only have to take their kids to one place.
  • Trunk or treating events can occur on a day other than Halloween.
  • Provides access to Halloween festivities for those who do not live in a typical residential neighborhood.
  • Can provide opportunities for promoting educational platforms and organizations.

Be on the Look Out for Contests

Check ahead of time as if there will be a prize (or at least honor and glory) for the best trunk or treat decorations! It may be a gift card to a local restaurant, a small cash amount, or even something specific to the location. For example, an elementary school in Michigan awarded a reserved parking space at future events to the best decorated trunk. There may be judges or it may be voting done by the kids after they've visited each car and gotten their candy. Of course, children may be more influenced by high quality sweets than the decorations themselves! Be sure to keep in mind that even if you're in a competition, trunk or treat is ultimately about Halloween fun for all involved.

Packing up from trunk or treat is easy to do, much more so than setting up. You just pick up and pile up in your trunk or truck bed, saving the organizing and storage for home. Consider giving leftover candy or balloons to straggling 'trunk-or-treaters.' It's less for you to carry home!

Most trunk or treat events will have refreshments such as water bottles or cider and donuts handed out to volunteers. Best not to wait until the end to get your hands on any delicious treats, or you'll risk having them all being eaten up by children hands and mouths!

Questions & Answers

Question: Is there an age limit for the kids who participate in Trunk or Treat?

Answer: Typically Trunk or Treat is seen as an "elementary school age" (or younger) kid activity. It's often hosted by elementary schools or churches for their youth members. I'm of the personal belief that you're never too old for innocent fun and that all should be welcome to trick or treat on Halloween night! However with a trunk or treat event, volunteers might have determined the amount of candy they bring based on the expected number of young children, so parents and their teens should keep this in mind before asking for treats themselves. Hopefully, the event simply specifies if there is an age limit or whether all can join in on the fun.

© 2012 Amanda


Amanda (author) from Michigan, United States on October 28, 2019:

Neil Young - personally I'm all for doing both!

Amanda (author) from Michigan, United States on October 28, 2019:

Aur - that's not something I have ever encountered with trunk or treating, though if it's happening in your area that is certainly a shame!

aur on October 27, 2019:

The problem with trunk or treating is that it is being pushed in many communities to replace actual trick or treating. Because it can be managed by a select group of people and certain people (see favoritism) can be denied from volunteering since these events typically take place on private property.

I'm sure that has happened many times, across the country, because someone has the wrong last name, isn't liked by so-and-so in their community, or isn't connected/related to the right people. With traditional trick or treating that isn't a problem, anyone can be involved. It is becoming a rising problem with trunk or treating though.

Neil young on October 25, 2019:

"Deemed safer than normal trick or treating because you are less likely to encounter strangers."

When I was a kid, part of the fun of trick or treating was getting to meet your neighbors.

b leka on October 29, 2018:

It really does ruin it. It's not safer just because you have more people mashed together in a parking lot. It destroys pretty much the point of trick or treating.

You dont need to know on October 26, 2018:

Going trunk or treating with my boyfriend and his family tommorow. Needed to know what it was! Very helpful! Thank you! ☺️

Poppy from Enoshima, Japan on October 23, 2018:

This sounds great! The whole family can join in and it seems much less risky than sending your kids off to go to people's houses. What a lovely idea. I hadn't heard of it before today, but it sounds cool.

Amanda (author) from Michigan, United States on October 10, 2012:

Thanks so much for the link!

crissytsu from Texas on October 10, 2012:

We do this at my church every Halloween. The kids love it. I'm gonna add this as a link to one of my Halloween hubs. Voted up.