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Many communities stress alternatives to trick-or-treating

Eight-year-old John Naylor Jr. will be out trick-or-treating Sunday night, despite an outbreak of consumer-product poisonings across the United States and a ban in his native Fitchburg, Mass., on the curiously American tradition.

He won't be doing it to make a point. Nor will his father, John Naylor Sr., who will be taking his son door-to-door in costume to collect goodies for the sixth year in a row. Last week he distinguished himself as the only member of the 12-seat Fitchburg City Council to oppose the ban.

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''I just want to have the same good time I've had with my son in past years, '' said the elder Naylor, who thinks government should not tell people how to celebrate their holidays. ''I certainly understand the concern in light of what's been happening, but I think responsible parents can guarantee their children's safety while they have a good time.''

Fitchburg is one of many cities and towns nationwide where trick-or-treating has either been banned or discouraged in favor of other activities such as neighborhood parties.

Six Massachusetts towns have actually banned the traditional autumn festivities. Most cities and towns have not taken such a drastic step, according to a Monitor spot survey. But several mayors have recommended either having no trick-or-treating or limiting it to daylight hours with parental supervision. The City Council in Cambridge, Mass., voted Oct. 26 to send out special surveillance teams. Many parents are seeking safer alternatives.

Even with these restrictions, children won't have to miss out on the fun. Many communities are holding events that let kids dress up and have a frightfully good time, yet keep them under watchful eyes.

* In most major cities special Halloween festivities are to be put on by the parks and recreation departments, community centers, and churches. Detroit's recreation department is sponsoring carnivals at the city's 32 centers this year. The centers provide candy, construct fun houses, and hold costume and pumpkin-decorating contests. Teen-age volunteers staff the activities. After the last shrieks have faded from the younger children's party, the teen-agers have their own - with pizza. Volunteer police provide security around the centers.

* Haunted Houses, run by Jaycees in Pasadena, Calif., and other cities, are becoming more popular. ''The kids just love it,'' says Carl Hubbell, Pasadena Jaycee's office manager.

* In Seattle, the Poncho Theater will be showing a version of ''Dracula'' for children. Just east of Seattle, the Snoqualmi Valley Railroad will run its ''Spook Special'' steam-powered train on Halloween weekend, and will serve cider and doughnuts. Fare for those in costume is half-price.

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* Boston-area children can be regaled on or around Halloween by plays, such as ''Hansel and Gretel''; haunted houses; a mask and costume workshop; and apple-bobbing contests at the YMCA.

Yet trick-or-treating remains a popular tradition. In John Naylor's eyes, the ban is an attempt to limit his freedom to observe the day as he always has.

''Who is the City Council to tell me I can't take my son out trick-or-treating?'' Naylor asks. ''Am I supposed to tell the boy that because of a few unfortunate incidents around the country, we can't celebrate Halloween the way we have since he was three?''

Naylor admits that his ardor in defending the unofficial holiday is in part a result of the fond memories he keeps of dressing in a different costume each year, imagining he was the character he looked like as his parents took him door-to-door. It's the kind of activity, he says, that develops a child's imagination.

Supporters of the bans say their intent is not to spoil anyone's fun, but to make the celebration safer for all by curtailing the trick-or-treating as much as possible.

Still, Naylor maintains that many aspects of modern life - ''even going to the grocery store'' - involve a certain risk. Parents, he says, should not have the responsibility for the safety of their children taken away from them, nor should they be encouraged to delegate that responsibility to someone else. ''I'm sure that if we go to parties instead of trick-or-treating, there will be parents dropping off carloads of kids and forgetting about them for a couple of hours. And things could happen there, too.''

Parties and bans or no, John Naylor Jr. will be out trick-or-treating - this year as Darth Vader. And should the Fitchburg Police cross their path, the Naylors need not fear arrest. According to Fitchburg Police Chief Francis R. Roddy, the City Council's resolution is just an attempt to discourage kids from going door-to-door. Says Chief Roddy, the ban on trick-or-treating - which some call an annual tribute to the childhood sweet tooth - ''really has no teeth in it.''

The Committee for UNICEF, which raises funds through donations from trick-or-treaters, has as this year's theme Alternatives to Trick-or-Treating. The organization suggests neighborhood parties where the children make their own costumes, do face-painting, go on scavenger hunts, and join in pumpkin caroling.

But for those who ring doorbells this year, UNICEF has a set of recommendations:

1. Never trick or treat alone, share the fun.

2. Avoid trick-or-treating after dark, and choose well-lighted streets.

3. Wear light-colored costumes, or decorate them with reflective tape so drivers can see you.

4. Wait till you get home before opening candy. (Other groups recommend opening candy only in the presence of parents, and eating only officially packaged goods.)

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