33-Year-Old [Trick or Treat] Virgin

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.


4 thoughts on “33-Year-Old [Trick or Treat] Virgin

  1. Loved this. Thanks!

    “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?”

    The billion dollar question – and not just for Halloween! Lord, show us how!

    Growing up, I didn’t have the same interactions with Halloween that you did – but I was certainly a part of “scare tactic evangelism” in other contexts. I am far less proud of those things than even the clever tricks (i.e., vandalism) that my teenage friends and I pulled on various Halloween evenings so long ago. (Looking back, I now rely on grace for both practices.)

    I now engage Halloween simply as a way to love my neighborhood. I go around to the houses with my kids, shake hands and say “hi” to neighbors that I haven’t met or haven’t talked to in a while. I tell the kids how great their costumes are (every kid loves and is proud of their costume – how great to hear a compliment from an adult!). As for safety, I just know my kids are safe because I’m with them – as are the other kids of the neighborhood, because I’m out there.

    To that end, I also think that the houses with their lights off (nonparticipants) also send a message to their neighbors. It may be a simple message that “we forgot” or “we’re out tonight, and just not home” (it’s great when they leave a bowl of candy, anyway); or it could be “we don’t like this night so please leave us alone.” It’s funny, because if I know there’s a home of believers, and their lights are off, the message seems even darker. It’s judgment: “WE’RE not engaging this night of Hell, nor should YOU! Sinners.” (I hear Dana Carvey’s Church Lady when I type that.) That perception may be false, and I should probably shed it, but I can’t help but wonder what the other, non-believing, families hear.

    In short (I should stop – sorry for the diatribe), like you said, Halloween is just another night to love. I like that it comes with a built-in structure to do so, and I can handle talking to my kids about the evil of the world depicted in the trappings. Indeed, I’m somewhat thankful that people put it out there. It takes the pressure off my lazy mind to think of reasons to engage these very real, perpetual spiritual issues with my kids.

    • Thanks for the response, Barry. I think you’re right. This is one of the few times that culture provides ample opportunity to discuss spirituality with our kids. I think the fact that there is no straight answer actually increases our ability to have a conversation about it instead of just a black-and-white response. Good thoughts.

  2. I like “The Princess Bride” reference.

    When interacting with Halloween, or any “man instituted” holiday, I like to try and be (or think that I am) balanced. My two girls dressed up (a lion and a cow), we collected candy from some immediate neighbors, and then we went home and handed out candy (always being sure to ask for a good joke from the kids). It provides an excellent opportunity to interact with your neighbors.

    There are certainly things about the holiday that I think are negative (celebrating death, zombies, etc) – just like I think that there are negatives regarding the way our culture often celebrates Christmas. Hopefully, as Barry alluded to, we can use it as an opportunity to speak to our children about the promises of God (particularly the promise of resurrection).

    My daughter’s birthday is also on Oct. 31, which gives us a second reason to have fun.

    Lastly, we rounded up the evening reading some of Luther’s “95 Theses” to celebrate Reformation Day. (http://www.ligonier.org/blog/what-reformation-day-all-about/)

    • “The Princess Bride” was a staple of my childhood and comes out in subconscious ways. Always happy to hear when people catch the references. 🙂

      I like your ideas about balance. This year, after we did our round of trick-or-treat, we dumped all the candy out onto the floor and the girls got to pick out their 10 favorite pieces, then we put the rest in a bowl and re-gifted it on our doorstep. It was difficult but a good practice in generosity for the girls to give their candy away. I’ve never thought of celebrating Reformation Day, but that’s a good idea to incorporate some of our history into the day. Thank you for your comment!

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