In Defense of Trick or Treat

There is a lot of controversy amongst Christians over Trick or Treat and Halloween in general. I’m fully aware that Halloween has a dark history. And when a Christian decides wether or not to “celebrate” the holiday, they also consider if they are sending mixed messages to others. Does carving a pumpkin inadvertently mean endorsing pagan rituals? I’d say, only as much as putting up a Christmas tree does. I don’t think history should be ignored. But I would argue that Halloween in general means something different to each generation. My generation doesn’t carry the burdens of the historical context. My generation sees it as a fun night to collect candy in a costume. In my childhood home, we were celebrating the traditions as they are now. My Husband grew up in a very conservative house and was not allowed to trick or treat. He jokingly refers to Halloween as “Satan’s Birthday party”. I think that generally sums up many Evangelicals’ views on the whole holiday.

Other people disparage trick or treating as a safety concern. There was that one year where someone supposedly put a razor in an apple and when an unsuspecting victim went bobbing for apples, their mouth was left bleeding. Or the candy bar that was supposedly poisoned. How are we supposed to enforce the “stranger danger” rules if we are encouraging our children to eat candy given to them by a stranger? Not to mention the risks involved when hordes of children are roaming the streets in the dark, paying no heed to moving cars or tripping hazards hidden in shadows? These are legitimate concerns. But I would argue that getting in a car and driving to the mall is a safety concern. Car accidents kill thousands of kids every year in the U.S. But we have to get to soccer practice right? We have to drive our kids to school. So obviously, all things considered, we often feel that enriching our kids lives is worth the potential risks.

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In our recently health obsessed culture, we also have to question whether our kids need a bucketful of sugary sweets. We’ve got organic fruit snacks, veggie chips and bagged pretzels these days, but let’s face it, that’s still junk food. Do our kids really need a massive influx of junk food in their diets? Most people still hand out the traditional staples, Reese’s, M & Ms, Snickers, Mike and Ike’s and Tootsie Rolls. There’s no way to sugar coat it, there is no nutritional value in those goodies. But we can control how much candy our kids consume once it enters our house. My kids milk their Trick or Treat supply for up to a year after their collection night. Some candy once in a while is not going to cause irreparable harm. All things in moderation.

I grew up in the 1980’s. And I was allowed to participate in as much of the Halloween festivities as I could get my hands on. Parades, harvest festivals, pumpkin patches, parties, spooky movies, costumes, and of course a night going door to door begging for candy. Many of my most favorite childhood memories stem from that special time of year. My mother grew tired of taking me around pretty early on. I often went with other trusted grown ups, in other people’s neighborhoods. So I had an outsider’s perspective on the event.

Secondary to my Santa filled Christmases, Halloween was my favorite holiday. To my child’s heart, it was a celebration of scary fun. It was fun to be a bit spooked. It was fun to be outside late on a chilly night. It was fun to wear a costume and pretend to be someone else, in public. It was fun to knock on any door I wanted to. It was amazing that all these people were expected to hand out free candy! It was a chance to interact with neighbors and often strangers in a safe, sanctioned way. I loved the script:

“trick or treat”

“Oooh, I love your costume!” “what are you supposed to be?”

“Thank you! Happy Halloween!”

There was no awkward small talk, just a friendly, pre-written exchange between strangers. We all knew the drill.

I wasn’t allowed to dress as anything scary or gruesome. And frankly, that’s not my style anyway. Many years, I was a witch, because once you have the hat, you may as well use it. And to my child’s heart, witches were simply old hags that wore pointy hats, had green skin and made mischief ala the Wizard of Oz. Witches were not real people, that was a ridiculous notion. Many years I was a princess, because that’s the easiest costume ever. Put on a fancy dress and wuolah, you are yet another make-believe character. Because princesses are a person in fairy tales that wear fancy clothes and live in castles. I never had any great costumes. My mom left me to figure it out on my own. People didn’t spend a ton of money on costumes in those days. And I was always more interested in being unique anyway.

One year, I dressed as the woman with the ribbon around her neck. She was from a book of scary stories I’d read as a child. She married a man who was curious about the ribbon she always wore around her neck. One day he was so curious about it, he begged her to remove it. Once she did, her head fell off. That was the end of that marriage. So many of my peers remember that story. I don’t know why it makes such an impression, but it does. Of course, none of the people handing out candy that year had any idea who the heck I was. I was simply wearing one of my older sister’s Christmas outfits from the 70’s and I had a ribbon tied around my neck. But I was so proud of that costume. It made me feel creative and mysterious.

As I said, I’m not into truly scary things. But lets face it, we’re all afraid of death. Halloween gives an opportunity to walk towards death without fear. As Christians, we know that we have a home in Heaven, with Christ when we die. But even with that reassuring thought, death still scares us.  I don’t think there is anything wrong or unnatural about thinking about skeletons or ghouls around Halloween. We’re all going to die and we all have to deal with making that reality more palatable. Laughing about death or embracing what happens to our bodies when we die just makes the whole concept more bearable.

Now that I’m a mother, I’m navigating Halloween as the grown up. I make the majority of my kids costumes. But trust me, they’re simple. So far I let my kids pick out their costumes and we just make it happen. We’ve borrowed pre-made costumes from friends, or occasionally bought something from the thrift store or TJ Maxx. I’ve been so fortunate that the past few years my kids want to be something on the same theme. Two years ago, they were the animaniacs, Yakko, Wacko and Dot. Last year we were a whole family of dragons. When the kids were smaller, Corban was Wall-e and we made him a costume based around a cardboard box. Avynlea was a butterfly one year, we used fabric markers and colored her some beautiful wings and attached them to a black, long-sleeved shirt. It’s amazing the range of costumes that you can base on a black long-sleeved shirt. That has been the base for a bat costume, a cow, or a ninja, and of course those animaniacs costumes. Other staples are black beanies and black gloves. The year we were dragons, we all picked a color and bought pants and shirts in our chosen color. Then I just made “capes” out of mermaid scale fabric. We made our dragon horns out of aluminum foil and duct tape. We spend on average $10-$40 per costume. And Adam and I try to dress up as often as possible because the kids love it. The whole family gets involved in the making process and we start prepping in August or September.

We typically visit the pumpkin patch with my mom. It’s one of the few outings that we take with her a year. We always go somewhere with a hay ride and a pick-your-own-patch. My mom is adamant that her pumpkins have a “good stem”. We buy apple cider at the farm and sometimes Indian corn or gourds. It’s a good chance to see a working farm and support our local farmers. When we come home, we work together to carve the pumpkins and roast the pumpkin seeds. As they kids get older, they get experience doing the actual carving with the knives. And scooping out the pumpkin goo is equally fun and gross for all.

We live in the middle of nowhere, and definitely not in any kind of neighborhood. But we live equidistant from two small communities. So we trick or treat in both, with friends that actually reside in both communities. One town hosts their trick or treat at night from 6-8 pm. By the time it really heats up, it’s pitch black and we can only see by street light and porch light. The neighborhood has a perfect loop that starts at the end of town and then finishes in the center of town on main st. At the end of our route, the local fire department sets up a fire truck for touring and allows kids to meet with firefighters and collect candy from them. There is a local church that hands out free hot dogs and hot cocoa at the end of our route. They decorate their stand with pumpkins and bats and everyone gathers there at 8pm.

My kids learn a lot about community in general on trick or treat night. They learn how to treat others. They learn to let other people pass on the crowded sidewalk. They learn not to trample other people’s yards. They practice saying “please and thank you” and looking people in the eye when they are speaking. My kids also interact with lonely people and people that don’t often get to see kids. There are several elderly folks on our journey that love to see the cute kiddos in their costumes. One lady bakes homemade cupcakes every year. And because she knows how people worry about safety, she labels each cupcake with her address. So we can sue her if we get poisoned. She’s willing to take that risk to give us something made by her own hands. We visit all kinds of houses in our community. Some are large and decorated to the nines with ghost projections, spider webs and plastic gravestones. Others are small, run-down homes with one rotting pumpkin out front. But all these people give my children candy, with a smile. Everyone involved is buying in to this collective community event.

I understand that this holiday is complicated. I do. But as our culture becomes more and more isolated, fearful and stranger adverse, it feels good to run towards the community. To celebrate imagination, kindness, neighbors, family, and to face fears head on. We check so many boxes with this event. There aren’t many natural opportunities to knock on a neighbors’ door anymore. I think there is so much value in that. I think the good outweighs the bad. And I think I love it and feel no qualms about it. If you feel convicted about not celebrating Halloween, then by all means, don’t do it. We all have to do what we believe to be right. But I’m grateful that I feel like it’s the right thing for my family to do. Thank God, because over here, we love Halloween!

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Featured image of us as “dragons” by Birds of a Feather Photography 

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