It’s Oct. 31. Daylight begins to surrender to dusky darkness. A biting wind blusters at windows. The doorbell rings in the home of a widowed grandmother. She swings open the door to two young children costumed as cheerful cartoon characters, each carrying a large paper shopping bag.
“Trick or treat!” they call out in unison with sweet voices through happy smiles as they extend their bags in eager anticipation. Their weary mother, standing several steps away, shivers against the wind and chill of the approaching darkness.
The neighborhood grandmother has nothing to contribute to the already-bulging bags, but she offers the trio some hot chocolate and a comfortable place to rest from the cold for a few minutes. They are puzzled by her lack of Halloween treats, but they gladly accept her offer to come inside and warm up. Neighborhood Grandmother: “Oh, you look so cold! This hot chocolate should warm you right up. I have to compliment you [she says to the children’s mother] on how responsible you seem about the children’s safety. It’s a good idea to accompany them. You can never know what dangers lurk even in this neighborhood.”
Mother of the children: “Oh, yes, I would never let them go out alone. The children don’t necessarily appreciate Mom’s watchful eye, but there are too many dangers to ignore. Children are harder for drivers to spot at this time of night, and there is also the worry of tampered candy and fruit. Even without those fears, it’s always a challenge to keep them from eating so many sweets that they get sick the next day.”
Grandmother: “Why, may I ask, did you choose those cartoon-character costumes instead of ghosts, goblins and such?”
Mother: “We don’t like the emphasis on death and violence, so we purposefully avoid those types of costumes. And we don’t want the children to remember this holiday as one in which acts of vandalism are considered fun. I have unpleasant childhood memories of children throwing rocks at cars and windows of houses, setting fires and deliberately terrorizing senior citizens.”
Grandmother: “It sounds like you’ve obviously given some thought to this.”
Mother: “Well, we go out of our way to make this a fun holiday for our children. Our goal is to fill their memories with good experiences. We are parents with high standards.
“May I ask you a question? You’re such a kind neighbor, always greeting my children cheerfully as they walk by your house on their way to and from school. I don’t know if you realize it, but you have a reputation as the neighborhood grandma.
“But you obviously haven’t decorated your home for Halloween, and you don’t have candy or treats for the children who come trick-or-treating. That seems out of character for you. Is there a reason?”
Grandmother: “I guess I must seem a bit different by not getting into the spirit of things on Halloween. I’d be happy to explain why. “My thinking is actually quite similar to yours. Like you, I’m troubled by the vandalism and violence associated with Halloween. More than once I have seen some of those acts aimed at senior citizens. Then there is the awful emphasis on death and dying and disembodied spirits.”
Mother: “Oh, I know. Some of the costumes I see, along with the horror movies aired on television this time of year, are downright repulsive. I don’t know why Halloween seems to give people an excuse to set aside their normal values and to revel in things they really don’t care for at other times. That’s why our family stays clear of the horror costumes and any association with death. We make Halloween a fun time.”
Grandmother: “I am all for making life fun for the children. But, even so, some years ago I made a decision to withdraw from Halloween activities. My personal conviction is that I could not dress up—pardon the pun—the traditions of something so truly wicked in its origins to make it into a children’s holiday.
“I thought long and hard about it, and it just doesn’t make sense. People who want to teach their children values like honesty, respect for others, kindness and generosity, and who want to instill in their children a positive outlook on life, take those same children and have them disguise themselves as the dead or as evil monsters or beings so they can go from house to house to ask for treats.
“I know that ‘trick-or-treat’ has a real catchy sound to it, but it doesn’t come from pleasant roots. It’s based on the idea that a mean trick will be played on you if you don’t give treats to any stranger who approaches you. Is it too harsh to say that taking treats with threats makes me think of a kind of extortion?
“I’m not trying to criticize you or hurt your feelings. You’re obviously a responsible mother. But this is a personal choice. I cannot in good conscience participate in something that runs so completely contrary to what I really would like to see for our children.”
Mother: “There’s no need to apologize. We’ve discussed these same things. Those are the very reasons we avoid the horrible costumes. But we chose to continue with the holiday because of its religious roots. You are so well informed that you must know the religious background of Halloween. Since it is closely allied with religion, we felt we could, as you put it, dress up this holiday in a way that would be in line with the values we want to instill in our children.” Grandmother: “Yes, I’m aware that Halloween comes from ‘All Saints’ Eve’ and that the word itself is an abbreviation of ‘hallowed evening.’ That fact also caused me to hang onto the holiday longer than I would have otherwise. I suspect that long ago religious people attempted to dress up an ugly, uncivilized and unchristian holiday, perhaps for the same reasons that we have been discussing—to try to make it acceptable.
“That rationale hasn’t been enough to convince me that Halloween was healthy for my family and community for two reasons. First, I learned that the word saint is used in the Bible simply to mean a believer, or member of the Church. There is no biblical example of celebrating one saint or believer above another and certainly no precedent for a holiday in honor of any supposed saint.
“The second reason—and I’ve really looked into this because I believe God and sincerely want His guidance—is that I’ve researched the history of people who honored God who were challenged with similar questions. When they came in contact with different cultures, they were confronted with unholy customs and holidays.
“How did they react? Did they dress up those offensive customs with customs of worship given them by God? I found the clearest possible answer in the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 12. It’s found in the last four verses. In essence, God told the people not to attempt to make the unacceptable acceptable. Rather, they were to avoid evil and build their customs on a clean foundation.
“Once I read that, my mind was settled. From then on I determined to provide fun for my children and grandchildren—and the neighborhood children—in positive ways, steering clear of Halloween.”
Mother: “Well, you’ve really piqued my curiosity. Thanks for your kind hospitality and especially for your insight. It’s time for us to be on our way. It looks like I have some reading and thinking to do.”