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On Halloween

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There are a few times every year that I’m reminded I don’t live in America anymore.  Halloween is one of those times.

My facebook wall this morning was plastered with photos of my American friends and their kids decked out in their Halloween costumes, plastic pumpkins full to the brim with fun-size Snickers bars (I’m not sure what’s fun about a chocolate bar the size of my pinky toe, but that’s for another day).  On my Christian English friends’ facebook walls?  Statuses about how much they hate Halloween.  About sitting in the dark with their curtains closed so they wouldn’t get any trick-or-treaters.

Growing up in a Christian family, we weren’t huge Halloweeners.  We normally carved a jack-o-lantern (not too scary), were allowed to dress up (as princesses and pumpkins and hobos – never as devils or skeletons or vampires), and would occasionally go trick-or-treating at a few select houses in our neighborhood.
We never watched scary movies or went to haunted houses.  For me, it was a little bit about my homemade princess outfit and mostly about the candy.

I had a few friends growing up who didn’t celebrate Halloween, but not many.  There were churches, too, who threw alternative “harvest festivals”, and one in my hometown who held a – I cringe to type it – “Hallelujah-een” party.  They were pretty much the same things we did at home anyway – fancy dress, chocolate, bobbing for apples – and none of the scary stuff.

So that’s the Halloween I grew up with.  And that’s probably why, when I first came to England in 2003 and someone asked me why I celebrated Halloween, I was a little bit tongue-tied.

Yesterday, I briefly considered dressing Adlai up and taking him to a couple of friends’ houses to trick-or-treat.  And, to be honest, I would’ve done it if it wasn’t raining and I didn’t have a chest infection.  Instead, we drove to the pharmacy when Simon got home from work to pick up antibiotics.  But while driving around, I caught a glimpse of between 20-30 trick-or-treaters, and out of those, I saw one – a princess – who wasn’t dressed up as a devil or a grim reaper or a werewolf or a vampire.  And while there are kids who dress up as those things in America, I feel like there are more who are superheroes and Pocahontases and cowboys and dinosaurs.

I understand that the roots of Halloween are in darker things, and I’m sure it’s in large part because of the culture I grew up in that I’ve been able to separate that out from my Halloween experience for most of my life.

One of my English friends asked me yesterday why American Christians think it’s okay to celebrate Halloween, and I think that’s my best answer – that the Halloween I knew growing up, the one fashioned for me by my parents and my community wasn’t dark or grim or scary.

I’m interested to hear what you think, whether you’re British or American (or something else), a Christian or not.

Do you celebrate Halloween?  Why or why not?

*For a little something extra to think about, read Rachael’s thoughts here.

Also read this, by my friend Amaris, about her “Halloweeniversary.”

10 Responses to “On Halloween”

  1. groggits

    It was really interesting to read your blog! I come from a very Christian family and when I was a child my Mother would never let me trick or treat. I grew up in the 80s and back then in England I feel the whole American stance on Halloween wasn’t really seen so much. (It’s definitely been introduced to us more through TV and Film over the last 20 or so years.) So every year I would beg my Mum to let me trick or treat (or even just dress up around the house!) but I wasn’t allowed. My Mum would even go so far as to make a sign to stick on the front door (complete with Christian cross) saying that we were not accepting trick or treaters due to religion. The next day at school was always mortifying because I had to answer all the questions from my peers. To appease the kids, our church would hold parties called ‘White Night’ parties (I’m sure it was ‘night’ and not ‘knight’ though I still don’t know the reason behind the name and when I tried to google it I just found a load of KKK sites….. not really what I was after!) These parties had games and kids could dress up as princesses or superheros etc. and have a giggle. They were always held the night before Halloween and hosted by the Vicar in the building next to the Church.
    Still to this day my parents put up a sign and the mention of Halloween to any of my Mum’s family (my Aunt, Grandma etc.) brings up a wall.
    I always craved the fun and the holiday spirit that the American Halloween seemed to evoke. I get in my mind images of brown leaves and carved pumpkins on door steps in front of white clad New England houses and having fun with my friends, not worshipping satan and evoking spirits, which it seems is what my Mum thought might happen.

    Reply
  2. Sybille

    I have to admit, I feel bad for American children growing up in Belgium… Over here, Halloween is something that has been brought to us by American films, just like Thanksgiving and Santa Claus. It is an excuse for student parties, for expat kids activities, and some shops have Halloween decorations, but it has never been anything big here. But we do have an issue, however, with Sinterklaas and Santa Claus… Sinterklaas (Saint Nicolas) is celebrated on Saint Nicholas’ day, the 6th of December, in the Netherlands and Belgium (which makes sense, as we used to be the same country in the Middle Ages when the tradition appeared). Saint Nicholas was the children’s saint, because he saved kids who were going to be turned into meat by an evil butcher (those were the Middle Ages, let’s not judge what the folks did back then), and he is a very prominent folkloric figure here, dressed in red and gold in his bischop costume. But the figure has been turned into Santa Claus in the USA, which was stripped out of his Christian attributes (well, catholic attributes, so it makes sense too), and celebrated on Christmas Eve. So what do you tell children, who tend to believe in both? That Santa Claus and Sinterklaas are the same but celebrated on different dates and in different countries? Well, not exactly, since Santa Claus is definitely not a Christian figure, in fact he mostly comes to us on Coca Cola adverts… Sinterklaas used to bring food, speculoos, chocolate, marzipan and mandarins, it is only recently that the tradition has been contaminated by gifts… So what do you do 20 days later when Christmas is here, do kids get to receive gifts twice?
    Besides, you’ve seen the speculoos (the biggest cookie ever!), imagine how much sugar we’d have grown up with if we had Halloween over here…
    That being said, outside of the Halloween tradition, we do visit the graves of our loved ones on 1st of November, but it is a private event, some pray and some don’t, it depends what you want to teach your children.

    Reply
  3. jamielynne82

    I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, so celebrating Halloween was never an issue, but it was never the creepy/scary craziness now. It was about cute costumes and a chance to get a bunch of candy (that my parents always had to mysteriously get “x-rayed” to make sure it was okay to eat. I think I ended up with like 10 piece total. Well played parents.). After Christianity became a part of our lives, my siblings and I were all older, so it didn’t matter as much. I feel the same way though, keeping it cute, light and fun. I love seeing my little niece dressed up as a 2-year old bumble bee!

    Reply
  4. Jorie

    I think I may be in the minority, but I like the scary aspect to Halloween. Of course, it can be overdone, and I think children should definitely keep to the G-rated costumes: princesses, fairies, sports players, astronauts, and the like. But to me, Halloween has always been this amazing hodge-podge mix of candy, dressing up, trick-or-treating, a celebration of autumn, pumpkin carving, haunted houses, and scary movies. I think there is a certain excitement in celebrating the faux-scariness and realizing that it is all in good fun.

    Just curious, but why are some evangelical Christians against dressing up as fantastical “scary” characters, like werewolves, vampires, zombies, etc?

    Reply

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