Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Halloween Wars

It’s October again, which means it’s time to repeat a venerable Catholic Blogosphere tradition. No, not Rosary Novenas- Are you mad??? It’s time to begin the Halloween Wars!

In past years I’ve been a bystander, but as my kids have gotten older, I’ve gotten a bit more entrenched in my position.

We trick or treat. Loudly, joyfully, and with much skipping, twirling, jumping, smiling and singing. My kids start planning their costumes in August and change their minds about 3,457 times before Halloween.

We live for the annual pumpkin patch trip. We draw haunted houses and witches and Jack-O-Lanterns. We obsess about candy. I am treated to calculations on every trip to the store—a Hershey’s miniature is worth three Smarties. But there’s a one to one lollipop to Smarties ratio, especially for the child with the corn allergy.

I know what you’re thinking: “But Deirdre, how can you allow your children to participate in devil-worship this way? One day they’re dressing up as princesses, and the next they’re pagan priestesses! Don’t you realize you’ve set your toddlers on the road to perdition?!?!?”

I see Halloween a lot like I see the Fourth of July. Some people choose to celebrate the Fourth by getting drunk, smoking pot, fornicating and disobeying local fire ordinances. I will not allow my children attend such celebrations. On the other hand, we ecstatically attend the local parade, cook bratwurst for lunch, and go to the fairground to watch the fireworks.

Halloween, as we American’s celebrate it, is mostly a harvest festival. That’s why the pumpkins are such a big deal (for my family, Halloween has always marked the first pumpkin pie of the season—which ought to be eaten BEFORE trick-or-treating…). And trick-or-treating is not about sneaking out into the woods for human sacrificing. It’s about small children playing dress-up, and adults telling them how cute (or pretty, or scary) they are and giving them treats.

In most neighborhoods in the United States, Halloween is basically “Children’s appreciation day” and has been for generations. And given how little our culture appreciates children on most days, it doesn’t hurt to remind people that children are a treasure.

Now, in recent years, especially in urban areas, adults have tried to take over Halloween. They’re trying to take “kids dress-up and get candy” day and turn it into “adults dress like porn stars and get drunk and fornicate” day.

Personally, I think this is a result of the fact that many ‘adults’ are no longer getting married and having kids. 25-year-olds used to celebrate Halloween by putting their toddler in a bear suit and making a trip around the block. But when you don’t have kids, there’s really no ‘age appropriate’ Halloween celebration. So the current generation is using Halloween as yet another excuse to get drunk and party. (I fully expect that in a few years “Veteran’s Day” will be an excuse to get drunk and party. It’s that whole ‘Fading Years of the Roman empire” vibe.)

So, what’s a Catholic Mom of little ones to do? Well, you can decide to boycott the whole thing – it’s your right, and this is an area where there’s no “Officially Orthodox” choice – it’s a matter of personal preference.

But me and mine will do the Halloween thing. We’ll march around the neighborhood in costume and fill our plastic pumpkins with treats. And afterwards, we’ll head home to warm cider and bed. Because, after all, the next day is All Saints’ and we’ll want to be up early for Mass!


Charlotte (Waltzing Matilda) said...

I just want to make clear that some of us who don't celebrate Halloween in the usual, child-friendly, typically American way do it for reasons that have nothing to do with suspicions of devil worshipping or feelings of moral superiority. And while I know that there are some people who very vocally express their feelings of superiority in boycotting this secular holiday (and they like to make sure that secular is spoken like a dirty word) I would just like to make it known that not all of us feel that way and would like not to feel freakish for choosing differently. There are already so many ways that our choices are deemed freakish by the world, when it comes from our fellow friends in faith, it pains us more. For my part, I promise not to make anyone who chooses the usual festivities feel as though they have turned pagan for the evening. :)

Deirdre Mundy said...

Charlotte-- just out of curiousity (since you're sane and I respect you! :) ) why does your family choose to skip out on Halloween?

(Given that you seem to do a lot of child-friendly, treat-filled celebrations throughout the year, I can see why Halloween wouldn't loom quite as large at your house!)

Also, I can really see skipping the Halloween thing when my kids are older-- The 'Big adventure' of dressing in a disguise and going around the block is a big treat for the 3-7 year old crowd at my house... I could see it drifting into "less fun" by the time we hit 10 or so.

Mostly, I was reacting to a piece I read recently that implied that the whole costume/ candy thing needed "Christianizing."

But my feelings on Trick or Treat would be very different if I lived in say... Chicago, as opposed to small-town Indiana!

Red Cardigan said...

Hi, Deirdre! I'll let my sis-in-law speak for herself, of course, but one of the reasons we don't do trick-or-treating anymore is that we have the option to go to one of Charlotte's awesome All Saint's Eve parties instead. :)

We used to do trick-or-treat, but stopped for lots of reasons: I had kids begging to put on their costumes all day when here in Texas that's not a sane idea in October, when Halloween is usually still rather hot outside, which led to frustrated kids and a frazzled mom; I had difficulties with the girls' mild peanut allergy, because I would have to go through their candy and throw out a whole lot of it before they could have it; I had kids terrified of the *other* kids' costumes (remember the year the bleeding "Scream" masks were popular?); I had a neighbor who answered his door with a live snake around his neck, who thought it was hilarious when toddlers were frightened--and on and on and on.

Another thing that's weird here is that parents who don't live anywhere near us either drop their kids in neighborhoods like ours, where the houses are close together, or they drive them around the neighborhood, dropping them off a block at a time, so they could get more "loot." We were spending a small fortune we could ill afford to provide everybody else's kids with free candy, even as our girls were starting to be too old to want to trick-or-treat anymore.

And that's the final point: trick-or-treat is fun for really *little* kids. By the time children are about age ten, they're unsure if they want to continue, and by 12 only the most petite kids are still "getting away with it" (and our girls are tall). So Halloween would already be "over" for us--were it not for Aunt Charlotte's awesome parties. ;)

Anonymous said...

Deirdre it sounds like a good fun way to celebrate but if Red doesn't want to that's fine. I don't care for those who try to make those who do dress up seem like bad Catholics. give me a break - it's a kids fun day and as Catholics we are not afraid to make fun of death or the devil. We believe that the resurrection triumphs

Charlotte (Waltzing Matilda) said...

Dear Deirdre,
I didn't mean to ignore you. We were out of the house most of today getting ready for a Confirmation tomorrow! Yay!

OK, what Erin said mostly goes for me, kids getting "trucked" into our neighborhood so they can get a better haul, etc...I would also add to it that our neighborhood has no sidewalks and very few street lights and we live on a hill. The one neighborhood we lived in with sidewalks there were druggies next door who liked to get drunk and loud starting early on Halloween, well, any given day really. When we first moved to our current neighborhood, druggies were no longer an issue, but there was a registered sex offender living 1/2 a block away although he has since moved. And I know some people argue that "you just don't go to those houses" but my active imagination and tendency to anxiety says, "but those were just the stupid ones who got caught... how many others are there that we don't know about".

Mostly for us, it has to do with my kids not tolerating scary images and what they consider scary, I am sure most kids would consider mild. Witches, even cute ones, ghosts of any kind including Caspar, pumpkin faces that look merely constipated to you or me are perceived as threatening to them and skeletons of any shape or size freak them all out. They have never seen a Scooby Doo episode and there are some movies that we have to mute because they don't like ominous sounding music even if they know what the outcome already is. You can read this post from 2007 for more info. I don't know how they all developed this sensitivity. My oldest has always been the most sensitive becoming physically and emotionally disturbed by gore and peril and I guess he set the tone for the others. We can't even discuss medical procedures or human anatomy below the epidermal layer because as he tells me, his hands start feeling weak. He doesn't mind reading stories about witches and wizards but gets very uncomfortable when presented with ghoulish things and people taking glory in them.

And don't even get me started with his aversion to all things pagan. We have only just now been able to convince him to study Ancient Greece because their mythology unnerved him. He's in the 7th grade, by the way!

When they start seeing the pumpkins show up in the Wal-mart produce section, they will loudly and frequently "remind me" that we can no longer make any quick trips in through the garden section until after Halloween. Those are my kids and I love them!

So why does that keep us from trick or treating? Because in today's day and age, in our neighborhood, you never know what you're gonna get and we chose from the beginning to play it safe rather than sorry. A bag of candy and a night out just isn't worth a week (or more) worth of nightmares or "Mommy, it's 10 o'clock and I can't go to sleep".

In the interest of full disclosure, my oldest did trick or treat once in our old neighborhood. He was Thomas the Tank engine's conductor complete with painted cardboard train costume that he wore around him with suspenders that I spent days making. He went to one house, got a lollipop and announced he was done. The oldest two also went trick or treating in Grandma and Grandpa's neighborhood once and weren't very impressed by the festivities. They were both tired and crabby and wanted to go to bed.

Charlotte (Waltzing Matilda) said...
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Charlotte (Waltzing Matilda) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
julie said...

i just have to chime in that while my "adult" halloween parties do include a modest amount of drunkenness, we do not dress like porn stars and fornicate. (ok, at the "pimps-n-hoes" party we may have dressed like porn stars, but no fornication was involved, no children were present, and we did not have the party on halloween night, so no trick-or-treaters were scarred by inappropriately exposed body parts.) ;)

i think that if you're a childless adult, you're entitled to celebrate halloween your own way, as long as you're not hurting anyone.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Erin and Charlotte-- "My kids don't enjoy it" is a perfectly sound reason to avoid Halloween, IMO. If trick-or-treat is about fun for kids, and it's not fun for yours, what's the point?

Julie- I was talking more about the sort of wild and crazy parties that spill out onto lawns and into the street. Drinking and drunkeness aren't really the same thing, either... we always have a good supply of pumpkin stout at our house for Halloween! ;)

Anonymous said...

We love Halloween! I have fond memories of trick-or-treating as a child. I never felt scared, because my dad was there keeping me safe. I remember seniors in our neighborhood who just loved to see us in our costumes, and loved to spoil us with special treats. I think it really made their day as much as it did mine. My teens still love Halloween, and dress up just to walk around the neighborhood. They aren't scaring little ones either, more like admiring the costumes of the little ones.

We have middle-aged, childless neighbors who dress up, go all out on decorating their yard, and play Halloween music (Monster Mash, Thriller, etc.) Its very entertaining.

We are fortunate to live in a cul de sac, so if the weather is warm, we can congregate outside in between waves of children. I'm the mom that dresses up every year, mostly like a witch, because it's an easy and not scary costume. My claim to fame one warm year was handing out a can of Coors to the dads. Boy did they like me!

Ours is a neighborhood where people drop off their kids to trick or treat. I don't see it as "going for the big haul" so much as a matter of practicality - it's just harder to walk far. I can afford the treats, and so for me, I'm really happy to have 150 children come to my door.

julie said...

p.s. i loved trick-or-treating with you and ali in the "hollow" :)