I think that constitutes my first ever bona fide trick-or-treat experience.
How the heck did THAT happen? As it turns out, growing up in a Christian household has meant that I’ve tiptoed around this holiday every which way but never actually participated in the main event. And let me tell you, there have been some pretty kooky expressions of Halloween along the way.
Let’s see, it started with harvest festivals when I was young. Nothing too crazy or kooky about that, just conservative Christians doing what they do best–offering a family friendly, sheltered event with plenty of candy, plenty of warmth, plenty of
over super smiley adults, and no scary costumes allowed. It was fun. I remember being happy and having fun.
Then, in high school, someone in my youth group had the stunning idea to go Christmas caroling on Halloween. That’s right, we not only dressed as carolers, we actually knocked on doors and sang songs to each bewildered-albeit-amused recipient. Additionally, we refused any devil candy offered to us and instead handed out candy canes. It was just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek and happy-go-lucky humor that characterized our youth group. It became an annual tradition, and it was fun. I remember it being fun.
Shortly after high school, I moved to Texas for a year to be an intern with a Christian organization. While there, I participated in a Hell House outreach over Halloween weekend. Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up. The idea was to create a guided tour of scenarios of hell on earth. There was a suicide scene, an abortion scene, a Jesse Pinkman style drug house scene (only filthier, if you can imagine that), plus many others that I don’t recall. Each scene contained live actors as well as “demons” egging the characters on to continue in their self-destruction and then laughing hysterically when it was completed. There was plenty of fake blood and guts, screaming and groaning. It was very graphic and truly horrifying. I can’t recall if there was an actual “fiery pit of hell” scene near the end, but there was definitely a scene at the finale with Jesus on a cross offering salvation from all the aforementioned entrapments. Then all the participants–in their panic-stricken state of being–would get funneled through a doorway into my open arms where I, and a number of other counselors, would talk and pray with them about the trauma they had just encountered. Salvation cards were tallied. Several hundred people usually got saved over one weekend from such an event. Years later, I am left with so many mixed feelings about the whole situation–what the message was, what methods were healthy/hindering, and if it was more of a trick than a treat overall (scare tactics? really?). I remember feeling important, which was a different kind of fun for me, but one that I latched on to (ironically) like a drug.
[Interesting side note: This American Life spent some time at a Hell House (similar to but different than the one I was with) and recorded a story about it here. The collision of religious and secular in the piece is fascinating.]
Fast forward a decade or so–two cutie-pies and a city house loan later, to be exact–and suddenly we are knee-deep in the trick-or-treat scene. It’s one of the few times, other than the Memorial Day parade, where people will literally show up on our doorstep pleased as punch to see one another. On a normal night, we hear occasional yelling and fighting. Not this time. Over the years, we have taken a ’tis-better-to-give-than-receive approach and handed out candy to kids. Last year, the hubby got inspired and flooded our front porch with white lights and decorations, transforming our house into a beacon of light to Halloweeners. It was fun. The girls got dressed up as a ladybug and fairy princess and were beside themselves to give out candy to all their neighbors.
This year, however, we decided to switch things up and hit the doorsteps ourselves. After we got the girls all dolled up, we started walking down the street and immediately the positive vibe was palpable. People were smiling–laughing, even–interacting with each other, commenting on the standout costumes, and happily collecting their booty. It was as communal an event as I have ever witnessed. We ceased being a group of individuals and instead became a collective entity that bypassed all the normal barriers of race, religion and economic status.
And sure, there were some scary costumes for my kids to encounter. At one doorway, there was my youngest daughter’s worst nightmare–a big bad wolf–handing out candy. But I suppose wolves who are handing out candy are not nearly so terrifying as wolves who chase you in bad dreams, because she stepped right up like a champ and even used her manners with that scary wolf. I was proud of her. That leads to a concern I have, however. For all of my instruction not to talk to strangers and never to accept candy or treats from people you don’t know, here we are endorsing such an activity, and even parading our daughters around for everyone to see. It does not escape me that Halloween could be prime time for predators. Some states have laws restricting sexual offenders from handing out candy or even being outside on Halloween, but not Pennsylvania.
As we walked back to our house, we turned down a side street and encountered a man in a creepy mask standing on the sidewalk with a white grocery bag filled with candy. After asking the girls if they were afraid of him and seeing them shake their blonde heads “no”, he said, “good girls,” and gave them each several pieces of candy. Yeah, not gonna lie, I did not like that one bit. That wasn’t the most disturbing thing we encountered that night, however. The honor of that distinction goes to a local church who had set up a candy station outside. As we passed by, we caught a glimpse of a group of five-year-olds sitting on some hay bales looking all doe-eyed at a leader with a candy bag who was asking, “Now kids, do you have a purpose for your life?!!”
I just… I can’t even.
HOW ABOUT JESUS LOVES YOU???!!!! How about, “I know that a lot of kids in the city have a really shitty home life (it’s not cussing if it’s true) and I don’t know if you’re one of them, but maybe this is one of only a few times out of the year when you get to have fun and interact in a healthy way with people outside of your circle of friends, and so here’s a piece of candy, kid. I like your costume. Jesus loves you and so do I.”
I know that there’s a lot of history stacked against Halloween. I know that it’s considered the high point of the year for most Wiccans. I know all of this. And frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. I’m sure as heck not going to let fear dictate my decisions for me. The reality is that the spiritual world is as real on Oct. 30 as it is on Oct. 31. There is a war happening all the time, we’re just tuned out for most of it. I mean seriously, all you have to do is a short Google search and you can uncover similar facts about most other holidays, including Christmas and even Easter. I don’t see any Christians axing their pagan Christmas trees, and I don’t think that’s the point, anyway. The point is: How do we as Christians interact and engage with Christ and his desire for his kingdom to come on this earth, even on a day like Halloween. How do we teach our kids to fear God and love his people above all else. How do we cut through the self-righteousness and the bait-and-switch evangelistic happy slappy Christian crap and actually serve and love people wholeheartedly?
Honestly, I’m such a newbie at this. I don’t have this figured out, and I readily await your thoughtful responses.