As a Christian I have always felt a bit embarrassed about other Christians slamming Halloween for its pagan roots.
Yes, there is good evidence to tie it to old pagan rituals involving human sacrifice or the return of the dead (to visit/haunt the living– whatever you wish to call it) rather than “once to die, and then the judgment.”
The arguments from these people primarily seem to run that Halloween should be rejected because of where it came from (many books and, I imagine, websites, go deeper into the details so I feel no need to here).
But this is a genetic fallacy, and even before I had figured out the name for it, I knew it was faulty thinking, because I’ve only once (and that was just last year) heard a Christian reject Easter for its equally traceable pagan roots.
I’ve floundered every year on how much to let my children participate.
When I had an 8-year-old foster boy, I agreed to take him to his school’s “carnival,” and was relieved when I learned it was canceled because of freezing rain.
We made a costume together for door-to-door trick or treating (to fit *over* the warm clothes– you have to do that in cool places like Alaska), but I firmly guided him away from the gross or mass-inspired (from cartoon characters to Harry Potter) costumes, because I feel those either focus on what is evil or stifle creativity.
In case anybody wonders, or needs the idea, we made a spider: matching sweatpants and shirt (that could be reused in the future) with a pair of stuffed pantyhose sewn on each side with string tying the ankles of the hose to the wrist above it.
8-year-old *loved* it: all the arms had “life” because they were connected to him.
I felt rather clever.
Anyway, what really got me last year (and assured an until-further-notice non-participation) was how an article I read in the paper melded with a section from one of my favorite books (The Perilous Gard).
The timing itself was… precise. In the morning I read the retailers’ claims that the increasing presence and gruesomeness of Halloween paraphernalia is utterly market driven: “We’re just giving them what they want!”
The same day (while I was making dinner) I listened the the section of the book that was the preparation of a human sacrifice.
It turned my stomach like it never has before, and I couldn’t imagine any more the “practice” and implications of this gross stuff to be innocent or worth perpetuating.
Here is where the genetic fallacy can have value: it should remind us what was (or should have been) left behind. We shouldn’t forget what it’s like to watch people live in fear– not knowing there was a sure defense from every terror that walked the night on the Feast of the Dead.
There are still people who live in that sort of fear today.
I wince every time I have to take my children into a store after Labor Day, because I don’t know what they are going to see. Horror can be fascinating, and I really don’t want them imprinting on that; standing and watching things that are designed to be truly creepy, while they gradually grow more aware of a stifling, unwelcome feeling called fear.
This happened once when I wasn’t really aware of what was going on. Never again.
The next time we were in the store and the girls (3 and 4) wanted to watch “the guy sit up in the carriage,” –a specter-ish thing rising out of a coffin– I realized I needed something to tell the girls about Halloween.
Fortunately, Natasha’s already shown a healthy interest in skeletons, so I don’t have to convince her skulls and so on aren’t scary. But other than that I just felt overwhelmed by the mass of images that slam us on all sides.
The fun stuff (fairies and firemen, children dressing up) is really not what’s driving the market, so that’s not what’s most prominent in stores. (Never mind that what *is* available and eye-catching for children is shoddy, and cheaply made– nearly makes me want to take-up garment-sewing again).
My breakthrough came when I remembered we are not the first generation who have to train our children while surrounded with images of evil.
What could other parents have told their children, as they watched their neighbors living in fear?
Jesus has conquered fear and death.
Fear and Death no longer have any hold on us, because we have a new master. I’ve used this description a few times, now: “Halloween is about celebrating Death and Fear. Jesus has conquered them both. They do no rule us, and we will not celebrate them.”
For anybody whose about to screech at me I’d guess it’s for one or two reasons:
- You have great memories of growing up trick-or-treating and the fun of dressing up.
- You want to build/share those same memories with your kids
- And what’s wrong with dressing up, anyway?
Okay, that’s three. Take your pick.
The problem is twofold. First, I don’t know if my childhood was really sheltered from this, but I don’t remember the overwhelming marketing. The article said it’s bigger too. And gorier. Our kids are being visually assaulted in ways we (statistically) never were.
Second, shouldn’t we be thinking about *why* we do what we do?
Is it because our kids and/or we need the candy?
Is it because dressing up and sharing the process of costume-finding/building is so fun?
My money’s on this one. But Halloween shouldn’t be the only time you let your kid dress-up– if it’s that important to you.
Lately thinking women have been scrutinizing the thinking on things once considered “normal.” Things like circumcision and vaccines. I don’t think even cherished family traditions should be excluded from that scrutiny.
And something else to take into account– your son may be a knight or your daughter a firefighter, but if you take them to a school or public “Fall carnival,” you will have absolutely no control over what they will see.
What you might have to explain.
Will it be the 5-year-old my dad saw at his school who came dressed as a corpse– complete with dangling eyeball?
These are not the images I want my children absorbing. They don’t yet have any mechanism for processing something that intense, and the images do nothing to enrich pre-school (I would argue any) lives.
I won’t even link to all the costumes hyper-sexualizing pre-teens.
For me it’s become an issue of protecting my children. Who knows what they will be “exposed to” further down the road, but while I have the sole guardianship of their hearts, I want to take that seriously.