Vol 1, Num 4 :: 2002.10.25 — 2002.11.07
On Halloween, I sit on my porch, talk and laugh with my neighbors, and get reacquainted with all the kids in my neighborhood while doing something nice for them. What’s not to like?
My children do not go trick-or-treating. I guess part of my rationale comes from my upbringing, but more of it comes from how Halloween has evolved over the years (or maybe it’s actually returned more to its original roots!). Halloween has become more commercial with outdoor lights and decorations to rival those at Christmas and more evil, scary, and horrible. I don’t remember tombstones in front yards years ago. I don’t remember hanging corpses as landscaping decor when I was younger. And I don’t like the fact that my young children have to see that as we drive around town (susceptible as they are to nightmares—they get that from their mom).
Apart from the safety issues that threaten the children of today, the biggest danger for children lies in desensitizing them to death and the morbid. Parading around in costumes that celebrate the macabre and suffering is not the way that I would want my children to learn about the finality of life or the evil present in this world. I don’t think the act of trick-or-treating is wrong, even if it does reflect historical atrocities, for children do not have a sense of its past and where it came from.
We do take our kids out, because they so much enjoy getting dressed up. I believe that the struggle with Satan is a real thing, but I also think our cultural response to it [as Christians] is a classic example of the cognitive dissonance we so often live with—say one thing, do another. We’ll call it Satan’s Birthday out of one side of our mouths, but we’ll take our kids out in costumes and call it Costume Night out of the other side. So, in frustration with that, we like to ignore the moralists and let our children have some fun.
I loved thinking ahead to what I was going to be once it was my own decision. One year I was a punk rocker. Another year, I was a bum (which was easy for me to do during that junior high “over-sized” clothing phase.) Though I’m not into getting dressed up anymore for Halloween, a lot of my friends have parties and come up with wonderful elaborate costumes, like moths and faeries. I admire their creativity. And the holiday for them is about that creativity, not about parading for the devil.
When my son was very young, people in the local Foodtown would ask him, “What are you going to be for Halloween, little boy?” His standard reply was, “I’m going to be me.” I love dressing up and encourage my kids to wear costumes any time throughout the year, especially those costumes I’ve picked up for 75% off on November 1. Using the imagination is great! We’ve been involved in some alternative parties: costumes and candy with adults and kids and fun games. I’ve never organized or run one myself, although I guess my strong feelings on the subject should be translated into action.
Some elements of Halloween (emphasis on witches, demons, gore, etc.) bother me, but I don’t want to let those elements ruin what is otherwise a perfectly fun and largely innocent holiday. My kids dress up like superheroes or fairy princesses or football players or cartoon characters, and we laugh together and spend quality time with each other. My neighbors down the street, who are also Christians, turn out their lights on Halloween and hide in their basement, refusing to answer the door. Obviously, they are free to do what they like, but my wife and I don’t see them making any kind of effective witness doing that. Rather, they miss an opportunity to have fun with their own children and to get closer to their neighbors. I suppose they think we’re selling out, but I have never met anyone who really celebrates Halloween as some sort of Satanic Sabbath or something.
I don’t know what I’ll do when my husband and I have kids, assuming we do. I’m tempted to say it’s harmless fun, but then I think about how my sisters and I used to count our “earnings” and gorge ourselves on it and hide the rest of it all over our bedrooms. I don’t see the holiday as intentional devil worship, but I think there is an element of inherent evil when the ritual of trick-or-treating inspires so much greed and gluttony.
As for the greed aspect, there is need for parental discussion to overcome struggles like this. I am sure that with some healthy discussion about this and all facets of sin and life we can give our boys the building blocks they will need to have a deeper understanding of God and His ways. As they get older, it will be up to them to either use or discard these principles.
When I was a kid we never went trick-or-treating. I guess I’m not sure why, but it was partly because my parents saw it as begging, I think, and since we were so poor they didn’t want us to be seen begging. They saw it as unhealthy (literally) and questionable in its origin. Some of us girls dressed up as international types a few years and went trick-or-treating for UNICEF. Some people weren’t familiar with the concept and thought that 1) we were just strange; or 2) we picked an odd day to go soliciting because we might get some candy out of the deal. My parents always had alternative activities, usually involving popcorn balls, candy thermometers, and burning our hands. Part of my rebellion in college was to go trick or treating as a college freshman. Don’t remember what I dressed up as.
I think my parents had a tendency toward the avoidance of evil years ago, and I see that avoidance as more justified the older I get. I love a good story where good wins out over evil in a battle that captures my imagination and engages my mind. I see modern-day Halloween as the triumph of evil, evil as attractive, evil as compelling drama without the foil of good. And doesn’t it seem that the stories of tainted candy and other tragedies have increased in recent years? Last and certainly least, on a very practical level, my kids don’t need more candy.
Another danger lies in greed and allowing children to thirst after the accumulation of “wealth.” Both of our boys are too small to trick or treat presently; nevertheless, we know that the day will come when their friends will be doing it and they will want to go with. I imagine that we will allow for it within certain parameters so they can still be “cool” without celebrating the evil around us.
The toughest part of having non-trick-or-treating kids is modeling and teaching how to react to others who are fine Christians but don’t agree on this subject. It’s been tough for them not to be judgmental if they really agree with me, and it’s been tough for them not to get to go when all their friends in the neighborhood do. Who knows? Maybe someday our kids will agree with what we thought and did. Or maybe they’ll rebel and let their kids trick-or-treat for days straight. As parents and grandparents, we’ll love them either way.