Wednesday, October 30, 2013

To Halloween or not to Halloween

I grew up trick-or-treating, relishing in that one day a year that it was okay to take candy from strangers. We used pillowcases to collect candy, because they held much more weight than flimsy plastic bags, and the now-ubiquitous reusable shopping bags were not yet commonplace. I remember limping on a twisted ankle one year because it was my sister's last year to trick-or-treat before it would get really awkward, and we wanted to rake it in. I still remember the houses that gave unusual treats, like our neighbour who worked for a souvenir pin company, and gave out a collection of surplus souvenir pins every year; the house that gave out juice boxes, which were a coveted status symbol in school lunch boxes; and a house that made fantastic candy apples with their name and address on the popsicle sticks to prove that they weren't going to anonymously poison us. We ran from house to house until our parents reigned us in, and then gathered at my neighbour's fantastic annual Halloween party. It was the one time during the year that all of the neighbours gathered together and visited. The hostess's attention to Halloween-themed details in the food and decorations was amazing, and this was in the pre-Pinterest era. I wonder if I've had an original creative thought since Pinterest.

This year's creations.
It never occurred to me that some Christians wouldn't celebrate Halloween until I started attending a private Christian school in grade seven. Among my classmates, a sizeable minority of them experienced Halloween in a much different way, peeking out the windows of their house at trick-or-treaters with absolutely no lights on in the house. Some others attended the Halloween alternative "harvest festivals" or "pumpkin parties" at their church. I hoped, for their sake, that they didn't know what they were missing. It seemed, to my twelve year old brain, a grave injustice. It turns out that those church parties were actually pretty fun too.

O trick-or-treating
Now that I am a parent myself, I have more understanding for those parents, although I choose to let my kids take part in Halloween. Parenting is rife will hard choices. Should I let my kids watch this show, go to that birthday party, play with at that kid's house? Should I throw out that brand new Scaredy Squirrel book I scored at Value Village because Scaredy consults a horoscope? We make judgements according to what we think is best for our children, and for some people that means choosing not to partake in any of Halloween's offerings. Parenting is hard enough without feeling like we are judging each other. I don't wish to persuade those who don't celebrate Halloween to start doing so, but rather to encourage those who do celebrate Halloween, including myself, to see some of the opportunities.

Super-O at the Strong Start Halloween party last year
At first I wondered if I was just letting my kids celebrate Halloween because it's so much fun. There are things that make me uncomfortable, like the gore and the ghouls, the vampires and the mummies. But I love the fun of imagining (or searching Pinterest) a costume idea and creating it, and the excitement of trick-or-treating. I love the candy. And, I hate the candy. Thankfully, I think there are more redeeming features of Halloween than simply having fun (which is not a bad thing either).

Halloween fixates on and celebrates fear. Is there anything positive about such a negative emotion? In my experience, there is a difference between true fear, and amusing fear. For most people, there is an element of amusement in the jolt of fear induced by spotting a fake spider in your Halloween punch, or by somebody you know jumping out from a hiding spot and startling you. After all, even the fun of the earliest game we play with our kids, Peekaboo, is the thrill of momentary fear followed by relief.

O and T as Bert & Ernie, the costumes that my Mom sewed for my sisters and I when we were little
Real fear is different. Real fear in my life was thinking my husband was not going to beat the Lymphoma monster. Most of the fearful elements of Halloween are intended to be amusing. There are reflections of real fear in Halloween decorations, like tombstones and zombies, though they should actually make public speaking decorations for Halloween since most people are more afraid of public speaking than death. A zombie doing public speaking would be the penultimate Halloween decoration or costume. Perhaps in using these decorations and costumes, even unknowingly, people are only able to give voice to what we fear most (other than speaking in public, shudder): death. I wonder how many fake front-yard graveyards actually give people pause to think about life after death.  Do the witches, gargoyles, and devils give people pause to actually think about the spiritual realm of life? There's an opportunity to engage with people who need hope, I'm sure of it. With the focus on fear and evil, isn't it a perfect opportunity for the One who defeated death and evil to shine?

O's first year trick-or-treating. He was too little to know that we ate all his candy.
For those who don't ponder the spiritual aspects of Halloween, it's really just a fun, imaginative, sugar-filled night. It's one of the few non-awkward chances to knock on every door of my townhouse complex and introduce ourselves to neighbours, and maybe stop to chat for a while. It's a chance to be a good neighbour, and be hospitable and generous to neighbourhood kids. I was accidentally the stingiest person on the block last year. The first trick-or-treaters were three young adult men who didn't even have costumes on. One tried to placate my obvious hesitation by passing off his cat shirt as a costume. I wondered if that was the kind of trick-or-treater we were going to get in our new neighbourhood, so I left a bucket of candy on the porch when we left to trick or treat with the lame backup candy I bought in case we ran out of the good stuff, and put a sign on it saying "Take one, not two...we are watching youuuu!" So, all the cute and appropriately aged trick or treaters that came after that saw our sign and the individually wrapped single gummy bears or whatever they were. Awesome.

Last year's pumpkins
The dark side of Halloween is undeniable, but it's easy to forget that aspects of our Christmas and Easter celebrations evolved from early pagan festivals and rituals as well. If holidays that Christians consider to be religious holidays, like Christmas and Easter, can be celebrated by the secular world with Santa and the Easter Bunny, why can't Christians appropriate the non-religious aspects of Halloween for some simple fun? Even better, why can't we use the holiday to engage with our friends and neighbours, especially when they might ask what we think about the spiritual aspect of the day? Why should the devil have all the good music?  We've taken back drums, electric guitars, dancing, movies, card games not limited to Rook; how about Halloween next?

1 comment:

  1. Oh... thank you Andrea for writing this! I was trying to put into thoughts how we were dealing with Halloween and you have done it so well. You are one awesome writer! Thanks for speaking out! Great pictures of the kids and Halloween fun! Miss you guys and hope all is going well! Jen :)

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