Halloween Questions Revisited

I am working on a big Pinecraft photo post for tomorrow and, phew, have finally finished “traveling season” (for a few months, at least).  I just did a quick tally – over the past 5 months I’ve rented a total of 7 cars, making 6 trips to Amish communities in 4 states.

And since most Amish communities are some drive from North Carolina, I don’t think I am the ideal customer for rental car companies–far from it.  Not that I treat their cars poorly–I always return them in good condition, but usually with 1000-2000 miles more than when they left the lot.  What can I say–if you give me unlimited miles, I’m going to take them.

Thoughts on Halloween

Meanwhile, with trick or treaters on the prowl today, I thought it might be a good time to revisit a Halloween post from a couple of years ago.

Unsurprisingly, Amish do not do anything for Halloween, though last month I saw, for the first time, a Jack-o-Lantern set outside an Amish home.  Well, almost a Jack-o-Lantern–it looked like a child had scribbled a face along with some other doodles on the front of the pumpkin in black marker.  A sign of things to come?  Probably not, but it caught my eye.

It seems that Halloween is more and more prominent in popular culture, however.  It struck me lately that people do a lot more decorating, earlier, than they did 10-15  years ago.  Also, Halloween has become a day for adults as well–witness Halloween themed parties and costumes for grown-ups.

Despite its popularity, Halloween elicits objections.  In the original post (in full below), published two years ago today, I asked how you viewed Halloween.  Re-reading the comments, I found some very interesting insights and quite a range of views on the day.

A number of commenters noted how Halloween had become “darker” since their childhoods.  Some saw little issue with it when younger but have more concerns about it today.  Some are less worried about the implications of the day, seeing it as a fun event for the young.

Here is one commenter’s pro-Halloween view:

I’m pretty sure the majority of American’s celebrate Halloween and a lot of kids enjoy it more than Christmas. I’d be surprised if any more than the smallest minority saw any connection between Halloween and the occult.

Just the greatest thing, pretending to be someone different, sticking out a bag and having grown-ups put snickers, chips, and butterfingers in it. And in this day and age when some of us in the city hardly ever see our neighbors, a chance to be neighborly!

And another:

Some of my favorite memories are from Halloween. My children love it, too. I was an adult before I had ever even heard that some people associated this holiday with the occult. My children’s school even decided to outlaw the yearly Halloween Party, but they then replaced it with a “Fall Party,” no dressing up allowed.

This comment captures concerns over un-Christian influences in the event:

As a child I, too, celebrated Halloween. We never got into the dark, goulish, Satanic costumes or behavior that goes on today. It was just a fun day to dress in a costume, and collect candy with friends.

As the celebration became more and more a glorification of all things dark, we removed our children from the event. They went to harvest parties at church.

Today we keep our porch lights off and don’t give out candy, as my husband and I don’t want to participate in such a crazy “holiday”.

I teach the kids in Sunday school about the holiday’s dark origins and try to explain that God does not give us a spirit of fear.

Safety is another worry:

We celebrated Halloween as kids and really enjoyed all the candy. I also remember the next few weeks in school being wasted because the students and sometimes even the teachers were in a sugar induced state.

When my children were young we continued the tradition but soon due to multiple reasons stopped celebrating this holiday. Halloween became darker and more filled with frightening costumes and daring behavior from the older kids. Not the most important reason for stopping but the last time our kids went trick o treating they were egged, chased, and threatened by violence.

At least in our part of the country, because the older kids/adults are incognito they use it to vandalized and act on whatever prejudices they have. Aside from a religious standpoint, Halloween to me is just not safe.

This commenter has embraced the opportunity to promote a higher cause:

Oh, I totally LOVED Halloween as a child. My parents brought me into the nearest city and took me door to door collecting candy. Since I seldom got candy otherwise, this was about the neatest thing that ever happened. Then, when I got married and had children of my own, it was just a really fun time to take them around to collect candy in fun costumes. We never got into the dark side of the day. It was all fun and games. A fun holiday with no big dinners to fix and no presents to buy…who could ask for more.

Tonight (Halloween) we will go out on the front lawn of our city church and give away hot dogs, donuts, cider, hot chocolate, coffee and bags of candy to all the kids and parents who pass by. Each bag of candy contains a gospel tract. What Satan means for evil, we will use for good. We also open up our restrooms to the people who come by. We will minister to hundreds and hundreds of people this way. This is the day the Lord has made…we will rejoice and be glad (and do good) in it!!

Here is a recollection of Halloween from another era:

I was a Depression Baby and there weren’t that many of us. I shudder when I think of this, but my parents used to let me go out alone in the dark when I was six years old, to trick or treat in our neighborhood!

In those days, the thing wasn’t costumes it was masks. They were a real horrible thing, though: made out of heavy material that would hardly permit one to breathe and with elastic strings that always come off before the last house was approached.

These were the days that “trick or treat” was taken literally. People expected you to come into their houses and sing or recite a poem or something else that would be a treat and then they would give you something. I don’t remember lots of candy, but cookies and doughnuts and in the generous homes, a penny if you performed well enough.

Finally, I appreciated this candid response:

I did trick or treat as a kid, but since we don’t have kids yet, I usually hide in my house with the lights off or go out somewhere on Halloween night. I see no reason to fatten up other people’s children with candy and sugar.

These are just a few of the responses; you’ll find many more on the original comment thread.

I grew up in a “Halloween family”, and it was a fun evening, with little thought given to implications beyond the dress-up aspect and treats.  We didn’t get into the gory stuff with our costumes.  The costume was more a box to check.  It’s what got you access to the candy.

Halloween Questions

Originally posted on October 31st, 2011

I went trick-or-treating as a kid, as did pretty much all my friends.  It was seen as a harmless chance to dress up as your favorite superhero or ghost or whatever, and bring home a huge haul of sweets.

I rememember how my brother and I would come home at the end of the evening and dump out kilos of candy on the family room floor to begin the ever-important task of Taking Inventory.

All the Butterfingers over here in a neat row, next the Baby Ruths, then a long line of Snickers, and on and on. Neither of us took much to math in school, but were miraculously transformed into junior accountants on those Halloween eves.

Dad, a real accountant, would soon appear to levy the inevitable “Halloween tax”. The choicest items would begin to disappear as he audited his merry way through our winnings. I guess he figured he was getting us ready for the fun of paying real taxes in the real world. Thanks, Pop.

Halloween was an accepted and much-anticipated event in our household, but I know that’s not the case in all families. Amish do not celebrate Halloween, but I don’t have a really good sense of how many other folks out there do not.

Did you celebrate as a child? How about your kids? If not, why not? Would be very interested to hear.

And for those that do/did “do” Halloween, what is your favorite Halloween candy? And the worst?

I’ll take a crack at those last two…the best has to be anything Reeses–pieces, peanut butter cups, pumpkins. I’m also partial to candy corn, but it’s really one of those things you can only eat a couple of days a year before you don’t want to even look at the stuff.

The worst Halloween candy?

An apple, of course!

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    29 Comments

    1. Andrea green

      I myself have neither done halloween , and have not allowed my children to take part, this was very hard for us, as there friends dress up and would plead for are children to take part, but as commited christians we felt it was to much of a compromise. In the uk the dress code is been a devil or a witch, we had light partys instead, the kids at church could come as angles or bible carictors, and actualy they really enjoyed this, and us adlults could dress up to, so we felt we had not given in to the world, but i must say each person has a right to do what they would like at the end of the day, but as for me and my house we served the lord through that testing time, but i know its so hard when kids are so excited about the hole thing and yes we had kids knock on are door for sweets, so i gave stickers with Jesus loves you, apples and fruit, and do you know the kidd loved coming every year for there sickers and fruit, truly they did, i even saw one of the small boys all grown up and he said i loved you giving me stickers and fruit and you always said God bless you! I was so touched by this, even are kids loved handing out the fruit and stickers.

      1. Andrea it is nice to hear there was that reaction. I think if you gave apples in some places you’d run the risk of them becoming projectiles. I bet those children who thanked you will have good teeth and maybe you made an impression otherwise as well.

    2. Janina

      Halloween is totally an American thing, no doubt about it. But as it goes, anything American is getting more popular in Europe these days. And of course commerce is trying to introduce the holiday as it is good business…

      So nowadays we do get some Halloween events in Belgium, but trick or treating isn’t yet one of them. Some kids might do it tonight, but what we get the most is spooky night walks, people carving pumpkins and costume parties. And yes, even adults get involved. Tonight I’ll be at a friend’s and I’m sure she’ll be dressed up and she will have a bunch of Halloween-themed snacks. (Last year: pumpkin soup with tiny meatballs that looked like spiders; and I made a delicious cheesecake with a cobweb and spider on it in chocolate) We’ll all enjoy some horror movies and then go for a scary night walk.

      Can’t say I mind the Halloween thing blowing over to this side of the pond. I’m sure kids just love getting dressed up and getting candy (not just kids).

      Great description in your old post by the way, love the Halloween tax. Good one to remember if I ever have kids and if they go trick or treating. 🙂

      1. Thanks Janina, your plans sound quite American 🙂 Looks like you’ve noticed the same thing with business as I mentioned below about Poland. It makes sense that that is where new customs might originate nowadays, since a lot of what people do now is consumption-driven.

    3. Debbie H

      All in how you feel in your heart

      I always find it interesting that we Christians make a big deal out of Halloween because of its pagan symbolism but continue to celebrate Christmas with all its pagan symbols, even decorating our churches with them. If you do not buy into the commercialized/pagan celebration of Christmas, you do not believe in Jesus. God looks into what we believe in our hearts and what our intentions are. I for one believed Halloween was about having fun and receiving candy when I was a child. I now believe it is a time to see cute little kids in some creative costumes eyes light up with delight at receiving candy and then saying thank you.

      1. Ed from NY

        Debbie…very good points. I read that Halloween is the second most commercialized holiday, after Christmas.

    4. Bonnie Reece

      Mexico

      Mexico has the Dia del Muerto which actually is two days of remembering the people in your family that have passed on. The first day is to remember the children–the second, the adults. It is celebrated by going to the gravesite to clean, put out new flowers to decorate. The family may spend the night there, eating & drinking to be with the spirits of their departed family members.

      However, since the influx of Anglos into Mexico & the influence of television, Halloween is becoming more a part of the culture. Children dress up in costume & go door to door. They sing a short jingle & hold out their bags for candy.

      The people who do want to participate have their lights on & their gates open. I don’t care for Halloween so I just lock my gate & turn out my lights early which isn’t a problem.

      1. Bonnie something similar is done in Poland, which is where I am now (just arrived–which was the last phase in the travels I mentioned above) for All Souls/Saint’s Days. The cemeteries will be full of people and candles over the next few days.

        Halloween is creeping in here, though not to the degree you mention with trick or treating, or if so it is very limited. But businesses in the cities are taking advantage, with jack o lanterns and some Halloween theme products/events.

        1. Janina

          Welcome back in Europe!

          Same goes for Belgium. We have All Saint’s and All Souls Day 1 and 2 November. Don’t think with us there’s the difference between two dates for children and adults though, and people don’t stay the night either. But on these days people typically the cemeteries and leave flowers, especially chrysanthemums. Not sure where that tradition comes from… Do you have it as well in Poland?

          1. Yes, exactly Chrysanthemums. I don’t think it is a “cemetery flower” in the states–just saw some at the NC State Fair–but has that connotation here. My Polish grandmother just told me with a laugh it would be strange to give that flower for name day or birthday.

            1. Janina

              Haha, your grandmother’s got a point… And it’s not even a pretty flower. To me it’s really a cemetery flower.

              Must admit that the concept “name day” isn’t a familiar one to me by the way. Why don’t we get that one in Belgium yet? If it means getting flowers, someone should introduce it! 🙂

              1. It does Janina, or sweets and things like that. Each day of the year has a number of names associated with it and you celebrate on your name’s day (complicated I know). I think it used to be even more popular than celebrating birthdays but things have probably shifted more in the direction of birthdays. Older folks would be more likely to pay attention to name days, in my experience.

    5. Lattice

      Has it been 2 years since that post? Where does the time go?

      Like you, Erik, I really take advantage of those “unlimited miles!”

      1. Yes, two years Lattice. Doesn’t seem like it.

    6. City Slicker

      Ragamuffin Day

      My mother (who would be 98 this year, if she were alive) said Halloween and Trick or Treating is a comparatively new “custom”. When she was a girl (in the NYC area) kids would dress in old clothes and smear themselves with dirt or soot, then go door to door and “beg” for food on or around Thanksgiving.
      Jump ahead to Halloween: my sister and I in the 50s & 60s, and later my own kids in the 80s, were REQUIRED by parental fiat to say “Thank you” at every house, whether or not any “treats” were received.

      Erik, how’s that new book coming?

      1. CS, how easy the kids today have got it.

        The new book…is coming! 🙂

    7. Margaret

      There's a real downer out there...

      I heard that there is some lady who if she sees an overweight child on her doorstep will hand out a message I guess to the point of go on a diet. In my opinion a real Debbie Downer.

      I can understand why the Amish don’t celebrate Halloween. Now that I’m older with no kids–I choose to keep the lights off and hopefully no one will ring my doorbell. This is my choice–I just choose not to participate.

      Many people bus their kids over to my county because so many are better off financially. While I understand the take is greater it means less for our kids…

      I like the idea of a fall party with no dress up allowed. Hand out candy to the youngsters. It’s a much safer practice.

      For anyone with small kids DO CHECK YOUR KIDS HAUL. Toss out any unwrapped candy or cookies (unless you positively know not only where it came from but you know the family). People put all sorts of crazy harmful ingredients in cookies. Razor blades in apples. Any open juice have your kids politely decline any drinks.

      1. Not so sure about poisoned candy

        On the poisoned candy, I just read an interesting article. There apparently is just one known case of that happening, (I think Oldkat referenced this in the original post thread) in the 1970s in Texas. Out of that has grown a fear over poison or other nasty things being in candy. We can still use common sense but I don’t think there is much evidence of it actually happening.

        http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Where-Did-the-Fear-of-Poisoned-Halloween-Candy-Come-From-228023541.html

        You could also apply the same cautious treatment to any food anyone you don’t know ever gives you, such as any restaurant-purchased food, or even that in grocery stores…a crazy/malicious person could strike at anytime, after all. But generally we trust our food sources and eat it without question so maybe it’s not such a big concern.

    8. Brad of the Brethren

      Halloween in England

      Back in the 60’s & 70’s when I lived in London, Halloween was very much a Druid holiday. Where I lived in London they would meet at ‘High Gate’ cemetery clad in long white robes and Druid sticks. Also ‘Stonehenge’ was another favorite place for them to meet. Very much a party like atmosphere, don’t remember a lot about it, too stoned !

    9. Missy

      Overly worried

      I agree with an earlier comment about how Christmas also has pagan beginnings. I was a kid in the early 60’s and a ritual was going to the five and dime store and selecting our costume. It consisted of a sort of taffeta jumpsuit costume with the design painted on it, and a plastic mask with eye and breathing holes held on with a thin piece of elastic. Choices were cowboys, doctors, nurses, ballerinas, and the like. As a young adult I used to dress up and play spooky music through loudspeakers on the porch. I look at it as just a day to be able to dress up and the kids to get candy. Yes, there might be some people who are into the occult who do things at Halloween, but that is certainly not the majority of this country.

    10. Matt from CT

      The only razor blades ever put in apples where in the minds of candy salesmen.

      Since Janina mentioned All Saints Day above…Halloween means All Hallows Eve — All Hallows Day is an alternative name for All Saints Day.

      Saint comes from Latin, Hallow from German (back in Anglo-Saxon days). In modern usage we usually use Saint to refer to people who have been sanctified, and Hallows to objects.

      Not a common word, but you’ll hear it in the “hallowed ground” of the Gettysburg Address, or the Lord’s Prayer (“Hallowed by your name”).

    11. Sandra Kathleen

      We had fun at Hallowe’en when I was a child in the 50s & 60s…I loved to dress up and feel so magical. Can’t say as I minded the candy, either! Favorites were Snickers Bars, hands down!

      So, of course, my kids had fun times Trick or Treating, too. We’d have kids over for a good meal BEFORE the sugar influx –and then go on the dole for the goodies! At 39, it’s still my older daughter’s favorite holiday.

      What happens here, being that we’re a bit more rural, is Trunk or Treat. Some churches hold Trunk or Treat in their parking lots — with cars very much decorated. Kids (from the church or not) go car to car and then into the church for a party. It’s really a lot of fun for everyone involved. in some communities, police and/or fire stations hold a Trunk or Treat. People that participate are known, so everyone feels a bit safer all the way around.

      I agree with an earlier reader, it’s what is in your heart as far as faith goes. And, it seems over the 60+ years I know anything about, the “demonic” stuff sorta comes and goes.

      As I think about it, I wonder if the Internet/Facebook has perhaps influenced this becoming a more “adult” holiday with more mature “themes.” I don’t remember as many “scary walks.”

      The description of your Hallowe’en is beautiful writing, Erik.

      1. Thanks Sandra, it was fun to recall those times. I have wondered how rural children trick or treat (dropped off in town?), and sounds like Trunk or Treat is one solution (had never heard of that).

        1. Missy

          We live on an acreage just outside town and we take our daughter into town to trick or treat. We had ours t&t postponed by the city because of a large storm that hit last night. It’s now scheduled for Saturday night.

    12. Slightly-Handled-Order-Man

      My Halloween night was quiet. I had to work, so I didn’t get to see the little creatures stirring come to our door. At work, a lady did give the receptionist and I a handful of candies, which was kind. The most awesome adult costume I saw in my travels was a man dressed up as one of television and movies’ Muppets, semi-home made, it was cool.
      It rained actually, but people still went out, locally, next morning, all’s well as far as I know.

    13. Naomi Wilson

      Christians and holidays

      It seems to be a huge fad among churches these days to look and act just like the world, as long as it is all done in the name of Jesus. But Jesus and the early apostles teach very strongly against conforming to the ways of the world. It may gratify our human reasoning to want to reel in as many “converts” as possible with big holiday parties, shows, and events, but God asks his followers to lead by humble example, by walking the narrow road.

      This is one of the main reasons my family recently started attending a conservative anabaptist church.

      Interestingly, as a child I had my fair share of trick or treating, but it was the families I knew who were staunchly against celebrating Halloween who made the greatest impression on me. Even though I thought they were terribly silly, scared, and old-fashioned at the time.

    14. Sandra Kathleen

      We also had delayed Hollowe’en activities this year for wind (50-60 mph winds) more than the rain! The house really rattled…but, not from bones!

    15. Slightly-Handled-Order-Man

      In my area of the world the rain came and went on Thursday. I saw undaunted trick or treaters during the five o’clock and six o’clock hours. I saw adult partiers dressed up later in the evening. It was warm here, well, warm enough at any rate.

    16. Anna Kinser

      Do you celebrate Halloween?

      The Short Answer:
      Not anymore.

      Explanation:
      I was born on the 70’s in a little town in Maine. We lived in a community of Christians. One of them, one of my Mom’s best friends, even drove a horse and buggy. We went to church every Sunday and my parents often read from the Bible each night or had friends over and we would sing or have our own Bible study. We went to a Christian school. We weren’t Amish, but we did a lot of the same things. We even had an outhouse and a wrought iron wood stove that we would use to heat the house, cook with and also to heat water for our baths. Each Halloween, my parents (mostly my Mother) would dress my brother and I in innocent, home made costumes. We were never any sort of ghoul or witch. We were always something like, a cowboy and a princess. We went to Halloween functions that our town orchestrated every year. It seemed completely innocent. It was fun. We went bobbing for apples, went on hay rides and played other games appropriate to our age.

      The older I got, Halloween was more commercialized, just like Christmas and Easter. But, because I was already in the mindset that Halloween was innocent and fun, I didn’t really notice that it got darker and more evil until about 10 years ago. We had moved all over the US and I saw and participated in Halloween even as an adult.

      When I was in high school I would hear about how every year some of the other kids would TP the principals house or leave paper bags of dog poo and set them on fire on peoples door steps. I guess as a trick.

      Back then, when we got our candy spoils, my favorites were the peanut butter cups, kit kats and bazooka bubble gum. Least favorite was the bit-o-honey or sugar daddy’s.

      Today, we don’t eat much junk. We make most of our treats using better quality ingredients. We eat healthy. My daughter loves kale.

      About 7 years ago, I moved back east to where my Mom and brother and other step siblings lived, near the Amish in Indiana and I started to have a different view of Halloween. What once was my favorite holiday and the only holiday that I really enjoyed, had suddenly become my least favorite holiday. I was already Christian, but I had strayed away and then I became born again. Now, I have a 3 year old at the age of 47. She is my only child. I am having to explain to all of my relatives and friends about why my husband and I are not allowing our daughter to celebrate Halloween when everyone else does now as we did when we were younger. It’s awkward when we receive cute costumes that our friends and/or relatives might gift us and we have to remind them that we won’t be going out and she won’t be wearing it unless it can be used as a dress up at home situation. Like a princess in a castle in the 18th century or something.

      We both feel that it is a holiday that God would not want us to participate in. It uses up resources. It is wasteful. It is harmful to our way of life. It is unnecessary. Looking back on it now, it would probably have been better if my parents would have put their feet down and said NO, you’re not participating in Halloween. Sure, we would have been the outcasts in school, but, maybe I wouldn’t’ve strayed from God in the first place.

      We may seem like strict parents to many, but, we do not let our child watch anything that has magic in it, or Halloween, or even Christmas, because they are all about magic now. Even Easter is about magic now as far as mainstream society goes and has nothing to do with the real meaning. We do our best to gently remind our toddler that the “M” word is bad and not how God wants us to live. Halloween is all about the “M” word and we don’t watch or participate in anything having to do with the “M” word. So… pretty much all holidays are out, except for the birthday and we only really celebrate my child’s birthday. We do not give each other gifts on our birthdays. We do not expect gifts from others and tell others not to get us anything for our birthdays or Christmas because we don’t celebrate them. A simple Happy Birthday will do and maybe a nice home made meal.