An examination of Halloween culture across Evanston

Back to Article
Back to Article

An examination of Halloween culture across Evanston

Cheyenne Edwards and Lia Sheahan

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






Unlike most other holidays, which revolve around indoor services or family gatherings, Halloween is inherently social. Every year, children from all over the country dress up, walk through their neighborhoods to trick or treat, and hope to secure some Kit Kats or Reese’s Cups by the end of the night. Something that is so tethered to the outdoors, standards of neighborhoods, or general social attitude can give way to many different perspectives about the holiday. This social standard for the holiday also makes Halloween an experience that can be very closely tied to where one lives. This association is prevalent in Evanston, as students from each ward celebrate the holiday differently. 

On September 27, 2019, District 65 sent out a message regarding Halloween to its school community: As part of our school and district-wide commitment to equity, we are focused on building community and creating inclusive, welcoming environments for all,” the message reads. “While we recognize that Halloween is a fun tradition for many, it is not a holiday that is celebrated by everyone for various reasons and we want to honor that. We are also aware of the range of inequities that are embedded in Halloween celebrations that take place as part of the school day and the unintended negative impact that it can have on students, families, and staff.” As a result, District 65 is moving away from the traditional Halloween festivities in order to find new ways to engage everybody and remain inclusive.

1st Ward

The 1st ward has been led by alderman Judy Fiske since 2009 and occupies the northern part of the lakefront. Although the ward has been known for its lack of diversity, it is relatively close to Northwestern, a school that proudly hosts many different minority groups of students. A 2018 newsletter from Our Neighborhood News portrays the ward as an area with “historic residential neighborhoods, the beautiful lakefront, and a lively downtown featuring the former Varsity Theater building, the recently renovated Fountain Square, and a wealth of fun restaurants and unique shops.”

The 1st ward also caters housing to Northwestern students and holds some parts of the university itself. Based on an Evanston census 2010, the population is predominantly white. 

Although the 1st ward is predominantly white, the Evanston Public Library, located in the first ward, hosts events that appeal to children from every ward in Evanston.

The Evanston Public Library contributes to the Halloween mood by hosting Halloween Costume Storytime, an event where kids come dressed in costumes and listen to “spooky, yet kid-friendly stories,” according to Patch.com.

Junior Deena Goodgold, a current resident in the 1st ward, describes what Halloween is like in her neighborhood.

“My neighbors have decorations up, and there are a lot of kids but my block is not one of the very crowded ones. People usually go further down Orrington to trick or treat,” she explains. “I think there will still be the same amount of trick or treating and decorations in the neighborhoods [despite the District 65 Halloween policy]. Even if they can’t celebrate at school, they can still embrace their traditions how they usually would outside of school.”

When asked about what components affect how Halloween is celebrated in the 1st ward, Goodgold notes that the personality of her neighborhood ultimately affects how the holiday is celebrated. “It’s a very open and welcoming community with lots of families with kids,” Goodgold comments. “It’s pretty safe to be outside at night depending on where you are. Kids would be with their guardians anyway.”

2nd Ward

Alderman Peter Braithwaite represents the 2nd ward, which is home to ETHS. It shares the borderline with the 5th, 4th, and 9th ward and extends from ETHS to the south of Main Street. The 2nd ward is known to be historically integrated and is “the most racially and economically diverse ward in Evanston,” according to Braithwaite in an interview with  The Daily Northwestern in 2016. 

But, there is an invisible divide that is prevalent between racial demographics. In a 2010 census that documents the racial and ethnic distribution in Evanston, it shows that the black population is settled more to the west and the white population occupies more towards the east of the ward. 

Senior Shyanne Williams describes her sentiment on Halloween and how it affects the culture in her ward.

“I would describe my neighborhood’s culture when Halloween rolls around as nearly non-existent,” says Williams. “Over the years, there have been fewer trick or treaters around, so the effect of that has been less spirit around Halloween.” Williams describes how only a few homes have Halloween decorations up, but the majority of them are not decorated. She also mentions that her neighbors are usually inside. “Recently, there has been an increase in children in my neighborhood, so there may be an increase in trick or treaters this year,” Williams adds.

Williams was then asked about the new District 65 policy and how that affects the surrounding neighborhoods of the schools. 

“I think that this [District 65] policy will have an effect on the neighborhood’s festivity and turn-out for trick or treating,” she states. “I think the neighborhood in which these schools exist will make an effort to overcompensate for Halloween.” In fact, Williams believes that there will be an increase in the turn out due to the ending of Halloween celebrations in District 65.

When asked about what factors contribute to the widespread culture of Halloween in Evanston, Williams notes that socioeconomics takes a role that affects the activity in her ward. 

“Socioeconomics plays a huge role in the affordability aspect of everything,” Williams describes. “If people are not able to purchase Halloween decorations, then they are not able to make their homes festive.” She heeds that if the homes in her neighborhood don’t look celebratory and jovial, then trick-or-treaters are not going to want to trick-or-treat. She calls the whole thing a “domino effect.”

3rd Ward

The 3rd ward sits at the southeastern point of Evanston and occupies the southern half of Evanston’s lakefront property. It is led by alderman Melissa A. Wynne, who has served on City Council since 1998. Based off of a 2010 census, it shows that the white population make up most of the area.

Sitting close to the border of Chicago, the 3rd ward takes on some attributes that are common throughout the southern wards as well as Rogers Park, and other north Chicago neighborhoods. Rising housing prices threaten to push many people out of their homes. Despite this, residents of the 3rd and 1st wards formed the Southeast Evanston Association (SEA), a neighborhood program dedicated to engaging in political activities and protecting their neighborhoods.

Junior Lina Kodaimati, who transferred to ETHS from out of state, is nearing her 3rd Halloween spent in the 3rd ward, and describes her experiences with years past:

“It’s not busy or lively, I feel like everyone’s just minding their own business,” Kodaimati points out. “In the richer area further down there are a lot of people out and about, but no one really communicates on my street.”

Regarding the new District 65 policy, Kodaimati comments about the religious aspects as well as the economic aspect of it. “If it’s a religious problem, parents can just choose to exempt their children from that, but I think when it comes to lower-income students, they should be able to go to class and have fun with their friends even if they’re not dressed up.”

“I definitely think that there are socioeconomic factors that affect Evanston, and it definitely has to do with gentrification and redlining,” Kodaimati criticizes. “It’s those communities that are separated off, which creates these subsections of people that know each other, but there are no interactions between communities. Where I live is a tricky place, because I live near Howard, but I’m also very close to the richer side of Evanston that’s by the lake. It’s a very strange place to be.”

4th Ward

The 4th ward sits in the middle of Evanston. Unlike other wards, the 4th ward does not touch a single Evanston border. Its alderman is Donald N. Wilson, first elected in 2009. Based off the same 2010 racial demographic report, the 4th ward is a majority white area, but there is a little bit of diversity in this ward as well.

The abundance of youth centers, such as the YMCA and Robert Crown, makes it a welcoming place with lots of activities. Halloween festivities, such as the October 25 DJ Halloween public skate night at Robert Crown, are not uncommon. The YMCA also hosts a Halloween celebration on the 25th, which is open to members and non-members alike. 

Cami Layden, junior, illustrates a typical Halloween in her community from the simple decor on the house to the factors that contribute to who comes and goes in her neighborhood.

“My neighbor[hood] puts up decorations but kind of lazy decorations, but no house on my block is super into it,” Layden says. “My neighborhood doesn’t get a lot of foot traffic, because the houses are farther apart. On Halloween, a lot of the houses just didn’t give out candy at all because we barely get trick or treaters.”

In response to the new District 65 policy, Layden expresses her feelings towards the cessation of Halloween in District 65. “I think it could be a bummer for the little kids, and the parents will probably get mad at the school. For Halloween, though, I don’t think the culture will change. I think the change was a good idea because it promotes the inclusion of people who normally feel left out of or uncomfortable by Halloween.”

“I think it’s mostly economic,” she explains after being asked what factors contribute to Halloween in Evanston. “People who can afford to buy candy and have time to spare to celebrate may celebrate. The geography of the ward, I think, would also affect how it’s celebrated.”

5th Ward

Alderman Robin Rue Simmons leads Evanston’s 5th ward, which occupies a large space directly north of ETHS. A history of redlining and segregation has made the 5th ward a minority-majority area, with the nonwhite population around 61.2%. 

There are several activities that occur before and during Halloween such as the Zombie Scramble, a 2-mile course where participants outrun zombies that pass through the 5th and 7th wards, and a Haunted House at the community center, Fleetwood Jourdain.

Junior Shoyah Robinson, who has lived in Evanston for most of her life, reports her participation when it comes to Halloween.

“There’s probably at most ten [kids]. Even if they were [in their own neighborhoods], they would go to other places to get treats.  There are a lot of rich neighborhoods with money that have king-sized [candy] and you always go to those places.” Robinson adds, “It’s kind of dead. My mom buys so much Halloween candy that we never even finish.”

She even recalls her experience of trick or treating in a different neighborhood than her own. 

“I have never trick or treated in my own neighborhood. I’ve always gone to someone else’s neighborhood to get treats,” Robinson says. She clarifies that she hardly trick or treats in her neighborhood due to it being completely blacked out and vacant. “How am I supposed to go trick or treating if the lights in the house are dark?” 

Taking the new District 65 policy into consideration, Robinson responds to it with deep sentiment. “I understand that they’re trying to be inclusive, but it’s Halloween. I feel like that was always everyone’s favorite part of Halloween was doing it with your classmates and going to other people as a class.” She even recounts a memory in which she went to a retirement home with her kindergarten class, saying “it was one of the best times during her elementary school experience.”

6th Ward

Evanston’s 6th ward, represented by Alderman Thomas M. Suffredin and at the far northwest corner of the city, has never been known for its racial diversity. Predominantly white, the ward’s percentage of people of color is only about 10%, rivaling about 40% from other wards, according to Kristina Karisch in a 2017 article in the Daily Northwestern

The ward’s largest school is Willard Elementary, which has come under fire in the last couple weeks for recently enacting a District 65 ban on Halloween festivities, which would include the former Willard Halloween Parade, where students would show up to school in their costumes and walk around the block. This decision has not been taken kindly by many parents, although the school’s official statement on the matter stresses that the decision was made purely on a basis that stresses equality.

A resident of the 6th ward for most of her life, junior Becky Arden recounts her experiences with local Halloween celebrations in the past.

“There are lots of people in my neighborhood, and lots of younger kids, so I would definitely say that there’s a huge Halloween culture, and there are definitely kids coming to my door and my neighbor’s doors every single time,” Arden says.

As for the new District 65 Halloween policy, Arden replies with, “I understand why they did it, for inclusivity, but I also think that, especially for little kids, it’s really fun to just dress up as a superhero, or something else, and that it alleviates some of the stress of normal school. it’s really fun, so I kind of wish they hadn’t [gotten rid of Halloween parades]. I remember really liking it.”

Arden recounts her own experiences with Halloween in the past, as a former student of District 65 schools. “Well, I’ve always lived in a predominantly white neighborhood in north Evanston, so I don’t really know if I have the greatest view on how other cultures view Halloween, but I know that in my elementary school everybody dressed up, and I do think that [socioeconomic factors] sometimes does affect it, because sometimes even a simple Halloween costume is really expensive.”

7th Ward

Evanston’s 7th ward is led by alderman Eleanor Revelle. Its shared border with Wilmette makes it one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city, as well as a mass of desirable lakefront property. Extending along McCormick, Sheridan, and down the eastern half of Central Street, the 7th ward is large, but not particularly diverse. Many students report little racial and socioeconomic diversity within the ward, most of its population being white and upper-middle class. 

The 7th ward also contains most of the campus of Northwestern University, which advertises its undergraduate diversity online, with 54% of admissions going to white students and 46% to students of color. Halloween events are common around the area that Northwestern occupies as well, with yearly events like the Trunk or Treat at the Chandler Newberger Center providing fun ways for children and adults alike to interact with the community. This excess in public lands such as parks and centers makes the 7th ward a busy place, with lots of foot traffic and safe spaces for children. 

Former resident of the 7th ward, Jack Turvill, talks about the culture of Halloween as well as the rise in spending associated with the holiday:

“I definitely see a lot of people trying to participate in it. I always see decorations up; there’s always the one or two houses that you know will put up too many decorations and probably bankrupt them for a bit, but I always tried to make a costume, no matter how old I was,” Turvill comments. “It was always cold but filled with a joyous spirit for the holidays. I’d see a lot of people going out, and I’d always see a bunch of different groups, at least groups of ten kids going trick or treating.”

When asked about the new District 65 policy, Turvill responded, “I don’t think it’s the best idea,” Turvill notes. “I understand that Halloween is mainly an American tradition, but I think if they’re trying to take away the idea of a noninclusive environment, they could still hold parties at the school, maybe take away the Halloween theme, but those kids already know that Halloween exists.”

8th Ward

The alderman of the 8th ward of Evanston is Ann Rainey. This ward stretches along with the southernmost point of Evanston, stopping along Howard from west to east. While the 8th ward is the most diverse, with students of color making up around 75% of each of its respective elementary schools, Dawes and Oakton, it is also one of the more crime-ridden areas in Evanston.

Gentrification also remains a large problem in the 8th ward, with condominium renovations pushing many lower-income people out of their homes. In a Daily Northwestern article from 2017, reporter Rishika Dugyala states that this would “put the city in danger of eliminating its middle class and creating a greater divide between opposite ends of the economic spectrum.”

Junior Hannah Bambic, a resident in the 8th ward, discusses the culture surrounding Halloween and how that affects the experience of trick or treaters. 

“Most of the people who come to my door are either really little kids with their parents or teenagers. I think one or two houses on my street decorate though. Most people, when they decorate, usually have something small like spider webs,” Bambic recounts. She also notes that a lot of her neighbors are Jehovah’s witnesses, so they don’t really celebrate Halloween.

Bambic continues to express her thoughts on how the District 65 policy may affect the celebration of Halloween in her community.

“I guess it probably won’t change that neighborhood’s typical Halloween that much in terms of celebrating, but it might affect the association of the schools with the fun environment of Halloween in the minds of the neighborhoods,” Bambic says.

Bambic also notes the economic and social factors that contribute to Halloween in the ward, “I mean obviously money [contributes to Halloween celebrations] because some wards are of people with lower economic status and ability to spend money on ‘frivolous’ things like Halloween decorations,” Bambic says. “I live in a place where some of my neighbors don’t celebrate Halloween because of their religion.”

9th Ward

Located in the southern part of the city, the 9th ward is managed by Cicely Fleming. This ward is considered to be one of the most residential areas in Evanston. However, there is a lot of single-homes in this ward. Low-income housing is much more common within the 9th ward than in other areas of Evanston, with a low-income population of 58%, about 15% higher than in other areas. With the little amount of commercial output in the ward, as it only contains some larger stores such as Home Depot, Best Buy and a single shopping plaza, it sees very little foot traffic. 

Concerns are also present regarding the ward’s lack of public space, and many residents are frustrated over the lack of economic growth and how this relates to their tight-knit community. A 2016 article from the Daily Northwestern includes perspectives of residents of the 9th ward, who critique the lack of city spending geared towards the expansion of their ward.

When it came to the cultural diversity of the ward, the residents had a lot to say. Cheryl Muno, a resident since 1999, states in the 2016 Daily Northwestern article that “(The ward) is very culturally and financially diverse, so you’re meeting people from all walks of life.”

Others frequently cite the lack of resources when it comes to public parks and resources for the ward’s many children, as it is a convenient spot for parents from Chicago to move with their families. “Mostly, they are flooded and are unplayable for the Little Leagues in the area,” says Bill Arndt, a longtime resident of the area. 

Although the 9th ward is not dense in public centers or small businesses, residents can make easy trips to the various different shopping centers for their Halloween needs. Although the lack of public resources often sparks a debate when it comes to allocated city resources for constituents, the residents of the ward state that the population of families and children creates a welcoming environment for everyone. There are 2 elementary schools and a large child population.

[Disclaimer: The Evanstonian reached out to students who live in 9th Ward but was not able to conduct an interview.]