Halloween is just days away. Of course if you have entered any retail stores lately; then you know that Halloween is actually over, Thanksgiving is 75% off, and Christmas could happen at any moment. As a Pastor’s wife, I should probably have some holier-than-thou soapbox to stand on in regards to the moral dilemmas of celebrating a Holiday with such pagan roots. As a human being full of flaws, I burned my soap box a long time ago. Instead, I will slide my daughter into a leopard print unitard, give my six-year-old an eye patch and gold earings, and take them to the streets. To plead for candy. Sure, it sounds a little shady, but only when we lose the innocence of what once was.
A true 80’s child, I spent my first Halloween in a glamorized orange garbage sack; printed to look like Garfield. I went door to door with my sisters, mumbling “trick-or-treat” through a paper-thin plastic mask that accumulated puddles of my own spit. By the end of the night, the piece of elastic holding the mask in place had been broken and retied so many times it cut off all circulation to my head. I didn’t care. I got candy, and it was mine, and that’s all that mattered. Exhausted, my then single mother, brought an end to the festivities by placing my pillow case of candy into a cupboard and sending me to bed. She recalls hearing me stir in the middle of the night, mumbling something about candy. She awoke in the morning to find me passed out in front of the television surrounded by wrappers. The pillow case was empty, and Elmo was singing in the background. It was certainly not the last time I passed out in a sugar coma, but as far as being the life of the party; I pretty much peaked at four.
In subsequent years, my mom bought a candy jar which she filled and screwed tight each Halloween. I remember watching the “good” candies disappear from the jar knowing I had not eaten them, but also knowing better than to accuse my mother. Even when I could smell the chocolate on her breath.
As I got older; the costumes became cotton and breathable, and I was dropped off with friends in the “good neighborhoods.” The ones with houses close together, minimal hills, and wealthy residents who gave out candy bars instead of peppermint discs. I can still feel the ache in my legs as I pursued one more caramel filled delight. I remember weighing my candy on the bathroom scale and comparing the number with classmates. I can envision the piles I made, sorting the sweets and agonizing over the order in which to consume them. I smile just thinking about the next morning, when I would slide that Peanut Butter Cup into my lunch box. I never questioned the traditions. They were simple, innocent.
It is different for my children. My mother spent $100 one year on a plush elephant costume for my son. She spent another $100 on peanuts, so that he had a burlap sack that said “Peanuts” to collect his candy in. He was four. After about 10 minutes of trick-or-treating he passed out in the stroller.
There have been years, when we were one of only a handful of families going door to door in our neighborhood. The fear of predators and registered sex offenders has left many people looking for alternatives to the traditions. Gone are the days when children are dropped off in the “good” neighborhoods.
In my town, the joy of simply collecting the candy is also gone as more and more advocate against the surplus. One local dentist offers cold hard cash for every pound of candy you turn in. He tosses the candy into giant garbage cans, and the newspaper gives him a heroes headline. I spoke once to a woman in her Seventies who explained to me how she budgets every October so that she can afford the candy bars needed for the trick-or-treaters. She told me she didn’t want to be the old lady handing out crappy candy. It broke her heart to learn that her sacrifices were being turned in for profit.
To me the moral dilemma of Halloween has nothing to do with Druids, nor the dead, nor sacrificing animals. As a parent, I have been given much. And much is required of me. I can teach my children that Halloween is evil, and fill them with fear that somehow God won’t be pleased if they go door to door. I can teach them that candy will rot their teeth, and bribe them with cold hard cash while some little old lady shares a can of tuna with her six cats. I can teach them that the world around them is to be feared and fled. Or I can teach them that to the pure, all things are pure. I can give them their innocence, allow them to walk until their feet ache, to watch the candy disappear while the chocolate lingers on my breath, to rejoice on Monday when they find a Snickers next to their Ham Sandwich.
I will tell them of the people who sacrifice so that they aren’t the ones handing out lame candy. They will learn gratitude, and how to receive graciously. I will hold their hand and keep them close as we wander the neighborhood. They will learn that they are safe with me. I will put the candy in the jar, bring some to share at church, and some for the candy bin at school. They will learn moderation, and how to share in abundance.
In the end, there really is no dilemma. Just Halloween.