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Of Halloween, Harvest Festivals and Hell Houses

Growing up in New Hampshire, the child of born-again-yet-mainline Christian parents, there was never a question about Halloween. Almost everyone in our little town of 3,000 participated.

Growing up in New Hampshire, the child of born-again-yet-mainline Christian parents, there was never a question about Halloween. Almost everyone in our little town of 3,000 participated. The only questions surrounding Halloween were how cold it would be and how many layers of clothing we would need under our costumes—and, of course, would there be snow on the ground?<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />

After marrying I lived in several other states, where my husband and I always had candy at the ready for any trick-or-treaters who might show up. Then our two children were both born in Connecticut, where our growing family lived for a decade. When old enough, we developed the tradition of their father driving them out to a few private houses, plus the fire station or the nursing home to collect a bucket of candy, while I stayed home to greet the few little ghouls and goblins who dared to venture down our dead-end gravel drive.

A high point each fall for the kids, preceding their evening of candy gathering, was the annual Halloween parade at their elementary school. It was nothing much really, just a simple old-fashioned loop-of-a-walk in costume, including students, teachers and even the principal. Parents lined the parade path, waving eagerly to their own, armed with enthusiastic smiles and plenty of cameras to document the occasion and preserve those fun childhood memories.

But then we moved to another state—and that was the end of school Halloween parades and parties. Maybe the lack of local school-supported celebration has something to do with not wanting to exclude or embarrass any child without a costume, which I could certainly understand. But I’m pretty sure it’s really a concession to conservative Christian parents who don’t “believe in” Halloween, thinking it dark and devilish.

Call me naïve, but I think Halloween is harmless fun. Maybe churches don’t need to promote it, but it’s hardly worth the time or energy to oppose. Honestly, I don’t care a lick about its origins. To me, it’s just kids dressing up and getting candy from neighbors. This year, in fact, my church is encouraging its members to be sure to actually meet the neighbors who come by for treats, and to extend to them invitations to an upcoming children’s event to be hosted by our congregation.

Meanwhile, other local churches are putting on Harvest Festivals the evening of Oct. 31, to take the place of Halloween festivities. That’s fine. Such an event could afford a church some great intergenerational fun. Our church put on a party like that a few years ago, sponsored by a group of singles and some older members. (The best part was the pie-throwing booth, especially when the pastor—that would be my husband—was the target!) Our Harvest Festival was on Halloween night, but it was no substitute for trick-or-treating, which all the kids did either before or after the event.

Of course, an altogether different alternative to Halloween activities is a visit to a Hell House, of which there are usually several to choose from around these parts. Although no one in my family has yet visited one, the reported intent is to scare the you-know-what out of kids—literally—by graphically depicting hell and the actions that could lead there, and explaining how to avoid that ultimate destination, all with living actors and significant drama. I have an opinion about these productions. But I don’t suppose I should criticize until I experience, so I won’t.

When it comes right down to it, we don’t make a big deal of Halloween at our house. No headstones decorating the front yard or noosed bodies hanging from trees. Just some modest fall decorations, including a couple pumpkins that will be carved into jack-o-lanterns, which will glow on Halloween night, and a small motion-sensitive ghost that moans a rather tame “Boo-ooo-ooo.” We will once again be both welcoming trick-or-treaters and sending them out, with the stipulation that our costumes not be violent or too gory—which is pretty much an everyday requirement about things in general at our house anyway.

My suggestion is that Christian parents of would-be trick-or-treaters and potential hosts of neighborhood children on Halloween follow their own consciences on this matter. As for me and my house, we’re planning to enjoy the evening, with no concessions to Satan. But right now, we’re off to buy candy and finalize some costume preparations.
 
Karen Johnson Zurheide is executive director of Positive Tomorrows, a center providing support services for children and youth facing family life challenges.
 
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In Their Own Way: Accepting Your Children for Who They Are

Learning With Molly