Too Old to Trick-Or-Treat? Jail Time For You!

The Grinch who stole Halloween? Yes, this is a real thing, folks—at least in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. Behold the area of the state where teens face jail time for trying to trick-or-treat.

In Chesapeake, VA

  • City Code 46-8. – Trick-or-treat activities.
    • (a) If any person over the age of 12 years shall engage in the activity commonly known as “trick or treat” or any other activity of similar character or nature under any name whatsoever, he or she shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine of not less than $25.00 nor more than $100.00 or by confinement in jail for not more than six months or both.
    • (b) If any person shall engage in the activity commonly known as “trick or treat” or any other activity of similar character or nature under any name whatsoever after 8:00 p.m., he or she shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine of not less than $10.00 nor more than $100.00 or by confinement in jail for not more than 30 days or both.

(Although, they’re super-generous and note that a child older than twelve who is, say, out with a younger sibling will be fine, but a child who is older than twelve but “taking pumpkins from porches and smashing them in the street” is more likely to have “issues.” Not gonna lie: I would hope that was true regardless of the child’s age, yes? Jail time as a punishment still seems a bit much, though.)

In Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Virginia Beach, Williamsburg/James City County, and York County, trick-or-treaters must all be 12-years-old or younger. In Norfolk, children older than 12 who trick-or-treat are guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor; in Newport News children older than 12 or beyond 7th grade who trick-or-treat are guilty of the same.

Aside from the ridiculously punitive nature of the laws (Chesapeake, I’m looking hard at you), I really am dumbfounded by the way they demonstrate how adults view kids. There’s this assumption that the only reason teenagers would be out legitimately is to supervise little siblings—otherwise they only thing they could possibly want to be doing is causing trouble. That takes a pretty dim view of teens, don’t you think?

But just to see if this is normal, or maybe one of those things where all towns have to have some law or ordinance on the books, but everyone pretty much ignores it, I went and looked up my town’s trick-or-treat ordinance. We’re not a particularly large town, but at 25,000 people, we’re not tiny, either. And you know what? I couldn’t find anything about trick-or-treating specifically, or Halloween in general. The city sets trick-or-treat hours each year during a City Council meeting, and that’s about it.

I’ve lived in my town for two years now, and am going on my third Halloween. What our neighbors warned us about right after we moved in during the first week of September—but no one mentioned as we were looking at the house—is that we live on that Halloween street. The one that the whole damn town comes to trick-or-trick on. (And I have no idea why because we have to give out so much candy that everyone gives out the WORST garbage candy. You go a couple blocks back and you get chocolate and all the good stuff. Another block back and who knows? You might get full-size candy bars. But not on my street. It’s all miniature lollipops, tiny Tootsie Rolls—and only one of each, at that. Anyway.) Our first year, here, we gave out 1,500 pieces of candy, plus all of the stuff we had purchased for our Teal Pumpkin when we ran out of candy. We get it all: parents trick-or-treating with their infants, who can’t speak and clearly aren’t the ones who will be eating the candy; kids coming with two bags and stories about siblings who can’t come for one reason or another (stories that change at each house they stop at, natch); kids who are so incredibly excited to be trick-or-treating; kids who are too scared to say “trick-or-treat,” and just mutely hold out their bags; kids who forget to say thank you and whose parents are totally embarrassed; kids who try to come around twice (or more often) over the course of the night; kids in amazing costumes; kids in no costumes; kids who are driven in from “outside of the neighborhood;” kids who rudely shove their bags in our faces; kids who try grab handfuls of candy from our dishes, kids who try to trick-or-treat before or after hours; and yes, great big kids who look like they’re way too old to be trick-or-treating and are in last-minute, half-assed “costumes,” if they’re dressed up at all. And everybody gets something.

I mean, it’s nice to know I’m not breaking the law by giving a high schooler a Dum-Dum and all, but I came across a blog post several years ago about older kids trick-or-treating and it really stuck with me. I can’t find the exact post, but it was really similar to this one, which got me a little a verklempt when I read it. Basically, these posts (and there are lots of them if you Google “teens trick-or-treating”) point out that sometimes these teenagers—these big kids—don’t even realize themselves how much they want to go trick-or-treating, how much they’re going to miss that little bit of childish fun, until is 5:00 and everyone heads outside in their costumes with their buckets, and it suddenly hits them. It hits them that they want to be kids again for a couple of hours, and they scramble around looking for “costumes” and pillowcases and friends to help them feel a little less silly and a little more brave, and off they go to spend an evening being children, because that’s what they are. Aside from attempting to threaten kids into behaving (on a night when there are hundreds of adults out supervising the streets anyway!), these ridiculous laws are taking some of the last moments of childhood away from our teens in a society that’s already forcing them to grow up way too fast.

Here’s hoping that the Halloween Grinches who crafted these ordinances (and others like them) find some spooky, wicked magic that helps their hearts grow three sizes this Halloween so their local teens can enjoy trick-or-treating while they’re still children.