A Halloween Memory

When I was 10 or 11, my father declared that Halloween was too evil for us to celebrate. He forbade my mother from buying Halloween treats, and didn’t let my 5 siblings or me participate in Halloween parades at school. The family costumes my mother had sewn- a bunny, a tiger, and so on–  stayed packed away in storage. We turned off all of the house lights and went to dinner at an all-you-can-eat family restaurant at 5PM.

 

I remember sitting in silence with my siblings at the restaurant. No one seemed hungry,alone and I can’t recall eating anything. As usual, my father made us bless the food at the restaurant, which we did-  to our additional humiliation on Halloween. The restaurant servers even looked surprised that we were there, and I could see pity on their faces. We went home in silence, too, keeping the lights off so no one would mistaken our house for one that welcomed trick-or-treaters. None of my friends spoke of Halloween to me in the weeks before or after Halloween. I was respected, yet shunned as a type of religious zealot- making it one of the most lonely two weeks in my life.

 

This is probably one of the darkest memories of my childhood. It is the first time that I thought that being Mormon was embarrassing and lame. That I did not like my Dad. I loved him, but did not like him. After all, all of the other kids at church went trick-or-treating. But my father declared it as anti-Christian, and wicked, which confused me. If this was the case, why did our ward have a Halloween party? Ya know—the one we also skipped? “Never mind,” Dad said. He knew better, he assured us.

 

scary-halloween

My father declared himself cleverer than everyone around us. Halloween was “wicked”! He said, “It’s like Christmas for the devil.” He marched with his head in the air, unable to see our sad faces or hear our trickling tears whenever he declared we would not be Halloween’ing.

 

 

That was the only year that we skipped Halloween. As a family, we never spoke of it again. Pumpkin pie It was as if that year, Halloween simply disappeared as quickly as our jack-o-lantern pumpkins did every year on All Saint’s Day at the hands of my thrifty mother, who stayed up past bedtime on Halloween night— slicing, cooking and freezing the former lanterns for Thanksgiving pies.

 

 

And then I grew up.

 

And I learned that Halloween is really a harvest festival, based on the pre-Christian tradition called Samhain (see  Hutton, Ronald. Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1996, p. 363)

And that the creation, then demonizing of witches was mostly a way to dis-empower Female samhainWicca Spiritual leaders. Or in other words, it was a way to punish women who dared to claim spiritual authority in general. Because even Joan of Arc was burned as a witch for claiming divine influence (see Smith, Bonnie G. Women’s History in Global Perspective. University of Illinois Press, 2004, p. 66.)

And that Halloween has as many Christian origins as it does Pagan origins. (see Rogers, Nicholas, Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, New York, Oxford Univ. Press, 2002. pp. 22, 27.)

And that the Catholics solidified the date of Halloween- matching a Roman holiday. Just like Christmas. Read this quote by Augustine Thomson at ucatholic.com—it is beautiful! Reference for both are here: “The Catholic Origins of Halloween”:

“We’ve all heard the allegations: Halloween is a pagan rite dating back to some pre-Christian festival among the Celtic Druids that escaped church suppression. Even today modern pagans and witches continue to celebrate this ancient festival. If you let your kids go trick-or-treating, they will be worshiping the devil and pagan gods. Nothing could be further from the truth. The origins of Halloween are, in fact, very Christian and rather American. Halloween falls on October 31 because of a pope, and its observances are the result of medieval Catholic piety.”

 

And I thought, “Dang it. Dad was trying. But I think he had it wrong.” And in my mind, I think he knew he had it wrong, too, since that was the only time we skipped Halloween. But I never asked him, and he’s since passed away.

 

feministwitchSo, I celebrate Halloween. I decorate my house. I actually own more Halloween decorations than Christmas decorations. I wear a costume—almost always a witch, because I am a good feminist like that. I have a collection of candy and non-candy items for children with allergies, food issues or just want a rubber bat or glow-in-the dark eyeballs rather than candy. I loan children’s costumes to my children’s friends and I do all I can to celebrate. Nonetheless, I always remember the silent, sad year that we had a salad bar instead of trick-or-treating. And I know I might be trying to over-compensate for that reason, but I do it anyway. Because Halloween.

 

Also almost every year, I meet a child who isn’t allowed to “do” Halloween. The child whose parents think Halloween is all about Satan, so forbid their family to participate. I don’t judge. And I smile, and listen. And I tell them that my family did that once, too. And it made us sad. And we were all grumpy on that Halloween night. And it was one of the harden nights in my childhood. But I also tell them that when I grew up, I never skipped Halloween again. And I’m okay. So they will be, too.

 

Then, if I have something on me, I hand them a candy or a toy from my purse to help bring aspunky's purse smile to their face. Because that is what Halloween is really all about—being happy, dressing up, laughing, sharing food with friends, and trusting your neighbours will hand out chewy chocolate rather than hard candy. It’s about community. It’s about smiles. It’s about childhood.

 

I love Halloween. What about you? What is your favourite and least favourite Halloween memory?

 

Happy Halloween!

Spunky

Spunky lives in Queensland, Australia. She loves travel and aims to visit as many church branches and wards in the world as possible.

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17 Responses

  1. Wendy says:

    Oh my heart. Your story of that trick-or-treating-less Halloween is devastatingly sad. And your research about its origins and history are empowering. I love that you are turning a painful memory into a reason to celebrate even more and that you empower children in similar positions as you were as a child.

  2. Aimee says:

    Growing up in Utah, and then living 8 years in New England, I was used to Halloween being one of the most celebrated holidays of the year. So I was surprised when we moved to Baltimore and discovered that they don’t celebrate it in school at all because so many families consider it evil. On the one hand, I’m grateful that schools are doing what they can to respect so many religious and cultural beliefs, but on the other I wish they would use the Halloween to educate students on the history of the holiday at itself. I especially love the feminist arguments you make here, Spunky. Thank you!

    • Aimee says:

      Edit: Lest anyone worry I refer to “the BYU” or “the Halloween” that unintended article is a byproduct of my eternally deficient phone typing skills.

    • spunky says:

      Thank you, Aimee! I grew up on the east coast of the US and– from my general observation after living on the west coast– is that the east coast seems to have a little “darker” feeling to Halloween, whereas the west coast is a bit more fun. I wonder, as an adult, if that is one of the reasons why my east-coast born and bred father was less thrilled with the holiday than my west-coast born and bred mother.

      I love the feminism in Halloween, too. Possibly one of the reasons I rather love Halloween– possibly even more than Christmas. Did I just admit that?

  3. Andrew R. says:

    Growing up we never celebrated Halloween. However, that was because I am British and until the influence of US TV took hold (too late for me) it just wasn’t really done. No Trick or Treating, no dressing up.

    My children have done it, and my grandchildren even more so.

    But it is still viewed as an American tradition that has crossed the pond.

  4. Over the years, I have had friends whose parents had very unique rules that they attributed to religious reasons, although they were not common among their fellow worshipers. I felt sorry for other Mormon kids who weren’t allowed to play with face cards or wear tank tops–activities that weren’t forbidden in my family or among most other Mormons I knew. Yet, we were not allowed to drink caffeinated beverages because my parents saw them as against the Mormon religion, although most other Mormons I knew had no problem with soft drinks.

    • spunky says:

      Yes. it’s funny. I proofread a book that is coming out in January and in it, the author argues that those who over-reach the commandments in an effort to be “more righteous” are really just manifesting a lack of faith. I liked the argument. I’m excited for the book to come out.

    • Kelsi Moore says:

      Yes I remember being so confused when my cousin wasn’t allowed to play with face cards because her parents said it was against Mormonism but the rest of my very Mormon family played with them. It was especially confusing because card games, using face cards, were so central to every family gathering that we had. We even called my grandma “casino granny” cause she loves card games so much. My cousin also wasn’t allowed to watch cable tv but movies were okay. This cousin was also the very first to rebel when we reached high school. Her parents have not been as strict with her younger siblings.

  5. Melissa says:

    This reminds me of how many times I’ve heard people say Harry Potter is evil. ha ha Thanks for this exposition. Ive been teaching my children about the origins of holidays as they are getting older, this fits right in.

    When I was growing up my family didn’t trick-or-treat. Though, we always had candy for children who came to our house. After my parents got divorced it is like my dad snapped out of his humbuggery, and he started taking my younger siblings. I was glad for them! My dad is an unfailingly good man, but he used to hold to many senseless sensibilities, like the face cards thing that April mentioned, or that Harry Potter is evil… Bless him. I’m grateful he has loosened his grip on those as his children have grown. He’s much happier now too.

    • spunky says:

      Thanks for chiming in, Melissa. I think we all have baggage that we manifest in different ways. I’m glad your dad is a happier person now.

  6. Lindsay says:

    I love Halloween. I think it’s the most community unifying holiday. Everyone comes out in the streets. Most people have their porch lights on, fun and spooky decorations up, bowls brimming with candy, and friendly smiles. Cute kids, obnoxious teenagers, protective parents, a chance for adults to embrace their youthful hearts for a night. I look forward to this night every year.

  7. Violadiva says:

    This sounds like a page out of my personal history. My dad went through a “we don’t celebrate pagan holidays” — and out went Trick or treating, santa and the stockings, and the easter bunny. As a kid, I felt so sad and left out. I watched my mom be sad about not letting us do the fun parts of holidays she liked. Now that my dad’s gone, I think his bizarre behavior resulted in a silly snap judgment without doing any research or learning the history. Thanks for the great synopsis of the origin of Halloween!

  8. Liz says:

    Not gonna lie, this is the most convincing argument I’ve heard in favor of Halloween! I’ve always been such a Halloween grump, but you have helped me appreciate the communal bonds and feminist underpinnings. I think I’ll go into next year with a much better attitude about this! Thank you, spunky!

  9. OregonMum says:

    The only part of Halloween we didn’t do as kids was trick or treat because we lived out in the sticks and there wasn’t anyone around. My dad was a police officer and I don’t think my mom felt comfortable taking us into town. Now I get to see it all through the eyes of my children and it’s awesome. I love building these fun family traditions, like the Halloween party we through every year for our friends and neighbors, or the sister in the ward who throws a “witches night out” and invites every sister in the ward every year.

    • spunky says:

      I’ve seen a few “Witches Night Outs” this year– I’ve never been to one, but I love the concept! Maybe I’ll organize one next year….

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