Thursday, October 24, 2013

My History with Halloween

My grandparents' living room. I'm the vampire in the back right.

I have only a handful of memories of halloween, growing up. I dressed as a vampire one year but know this because I have a photo and not because I much remember it. I do remember Little Bo Peep and Strawberry Shortcake costumes, and I know why.

The Little Bo Peep costume came about because we realized at the last minute that it was trick-or-treat night. I had a big, fat come-apart for my lack of costume, and Mom pulled Little Bo Peep together from what we had lying around (i.e., a cane became a shepherd's staff).

The Strawberry Shortcake costume included one of those hard, plastic masks with eye holes, and--for as cute as it was--it was the most aggravating thing: hot, also dangerous in that it really limited my vision.

I remember my daddy spreading our candy out on the carpeted floor of the rec room and examining each piece carefully: for razors, I guess, or poison. I don't know how he would've detected poison, but I knew in those moments of candy examination that he loved us.

My brother and I carried the same, blow mold jack o' lantern pails every year; I still have mine, in fact. I don't remember Mom's ever decorating for halloween, though, and we entertained a precious few trick-or-treaters because of the length of our driveways in both Pennsylvania (where we lived until I was eleven) and East Tennessee.

I was a little old for trick-or-treating at the point at which we moved south, and there were no nearby neighborhoods, anyway. Down home, older kids like to "go rolling" on halloween, which--in case you've never heard of it--entails making a mess of someone's yard with toilet paper. Like this:

Now, our daddy made it very clear that--if he caught someone rolling our yard--he wouldn't hesitate to shoot that person dead, also that--if he ever found out we'd been up to such tomfoolery--he'd flat wear us out. So I really have only one halloween memory from my growing-up years in East Tennessee, which is of the parents of our youth group setting up the scariest haunted house for us, one year, in the upstairs of a vacant farmhouse.

They put somebody in a coffin up there, y'all, and he popped up at us. Someone else jumped out from the shadows; I want to say he appeared to be bleeding profusely from the face. We screamed our heads off and then died laughing; I suffer no PTSD from that situation. I've had to overcome several fears (most notably that of taking communion), though, instilled in me on Sundays by the God-fearing preachers of that church.

Many years later, when Cade was born, I was so excited to live in an actual neighborhood where there would be trick-or-treating. Cade was too small to eat candy, so we didn't trick-or-treat. I dressed him up like Blue from Blue's Clues, though, and my best friend Erin (who'd flown in from far away) and I handed out candy to trick-or-treater after trick-or-treater.

Cade, Erin, and Me. 2000

And as far as I can recollect, I've missed only one year of trick-or-treating in all the years since (last year, because I was two days from having a baby and exhausted, and by then we'd already "trunk-or-treated"). Back when I taught English at the tech school, I flat-out refused to teach on halloween night. I held three make-up classes, one year, to accommodate all my students from a cancelled, October-31st class. I didn't care; it was totally worth it to trick-or-treat with Cade.

Erin brought a baby girl (Mira) into the world six months after Clementine was born. They've twice traveled to Virginia to visit the pumpkin patch, carve pumpkins, make Nutter Butter ghosties, and trick-or-treat with us. In less than 48 hours, they'll be here to do it all a third time. I'm so excited I can hardly see straight.

It hurts my heart a little when fellow believers talk about the evils of halloween. I haven't experienced any evils of halloween. Yes, I'm aware that there are pagan origins to certain halloween practices, but there are pagan origins to the practices of other holidays (more religious holidays!), too. We don't associate any of our holiday traditions with satan, and I feel like we're clever enough to assign our own (positive!) meanings and reasons to/for all our holiday traditions.

Yes, I'm aware that some people enjoy scary and gory costumes, decorations, etc. on halloween. I don't want my children exposed to or frightened by these sorts of things, and so far, they haven't been. One of them has been frightened, however, by my mother-in-law's ex-husband (who did nothing but open the door to us at Christmastime), and another has been frightened by many a small animal. We worked through those fears, and I reckon we'll work through any future fears best we can, regardless of the holiday or situation.

I think my children will grow up and wax nostalgic about halloween. I'm just like every other good parent; I'm raising my children according to my own conscience, and I assure you: the Holy Spirit is much with me. So far, I haven't fallen under conviction for the ways in which I celebrate halloween, and--until the Holy Spirit convicts me--(wo)man doesn't stand a chance of changing my mind. What other people do or think about halloween is their business. I'm about to do my deal.

2012, for Trunk-or-Treating


  1. I always joke around about "back in the day when I was a kid, before Halloween was a sin". Our church youth group always did a haunted house in those good old days!

  2. Wonderful stories and memories show thru in this post. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the different snapshots throughout your lifetime about Halloween.

  3. I could not agree more about how Halloween is perceived.

  4. I love your colloquialisms. Where I grew up we didn't "go rolling", we went "teepeeing". And my dad didn't "wear us out", he "beat the crap out of us." I don't have many Halloween memories, but it was a very long time ago. I love the way you tell a story.

  5. Yes to all of this!
    We actually don't trick-or-treat with our boys in the traditional way b/c our neighborhood isn't the safest and people actually don't have leave their porch lights on to do so. Pre-kids we'd leave ours on, but most years we'd get maybe a dozen kids. There are a TON of church events in our city on Halloween, and last year we had our kids trick-or-treat at the mall (safe and warm) and we do the zoo. And some years we hit up our local Megachurch for their big event. But I trick-or-treated like a pro when I was a kid --- pillowcases my brother and I filled. We didn't mess around w/ a pumpkin bucket.;) I am sad that my kids will (probably) miss out on that aspect of Halloween just b/c I don't trust the (few) crazy people in the world with candy.
    And teepeeing (learned a new word "rolling") - we didn't go on Halloween but several nights each year the boys vs. the girls or jrs. vs. srs. in youth group would do that - or we would tp the leaders houses. FUN memories.