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, 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.
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. 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 Wicca 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.
So, 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 a 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?