Monday, October 30, 2006


This is cross-posted from Everyday Mom.

Halloween is tomorrow. Our house is ready, the pumpkins, not yet carved, sit in a pair on our front stoop. We've dragged the box of decorations down from the top shelf over the laundry machines and picked some to air for a week. Faux cobwebs greet visitors to our home. A two-foot spider perches over our front door light. Frankenstein leers from a plastic sheet covering our only window to face the street.

We like Halloween at our house. It's fun. There are parties ahead of time. Trick-or-treating with neighbors. A local parade. It's among our few national traditions that bring people out of the house, and together in public space. My daughter Samira looks forward to Halloween all year. On Wednesday, you can bet that she'll start planning next year's costume.

I like it all the more because Halloween is now such a bugbear to conservative religionists in our country. When I grew up, our Christian friends trick-or-treated. Our Jewish friends trick-or-treated. Even the bad boys down the street trick-or-treated. No one's pastor or rabbi admonished them to stay home. Never.

What has happened in the intervening years? Halloween has been re-paganized. Not by actual pagans, who have gone on with their quiet ways, but by people who've been intent on moving our nation's religious traditions to the right. Now, it's become more common for religious American to demonize Halloween. For the first time, my daughter came home and reported that two Christian kids in her class aren't allowed to do Halloween. Friends whose kids go to conservative Jewish schools, too, report that Halloween's a non-entity, and tell me about letters from the head of school that explain why children shouldn't go door to door, or dress up as witches and vampires and ghouls. The move to make religion more religious, to detach religious life from the shared secular sphere, and to shore up the boundaries between religious practice and the secular, public world means that Halloween is no longer a shared American tradition.

So celebrate Halloween. It's a celebration I now see as political: a celebration of American childhood, of families getting together. It's a celebration of the traditions that connect us, and on happy terms. Yes, the commercialism is over the top. Yes, the stores stock costumes starting on Labor Day and it's ridiculous. Yes, the outfits offered for girls are horridly slutty. Make a decent candy policy so our kids' teeth don't rot, absolutely. But don't get hung up on the negatives. Slide around them, laugh. Find your own ways, enjoy what's "pagan" and secular and American and good.

See it from my daughter's bright-eyed perspective: the one night a year when you can stay out late with your friends, knock on everyone's door, and get a big hello and some candy.

With all that's going wrong these days, what can be better than that? I say, if anyone should stay home on Halloween, it's the mean ole bad boys (and girls) with their teasing, mischief and eggs. Get the Christians and Jews, and anyone else who's been in retreat, to come back to the Halloween street. It's about nothing less than saving our American spirit of sharing.


karrie said...

Right on! We're an atheist-lapsed baha'i family and Halloween is one of the few holidays that I feel comfortable celebrating. Plus, it's fun.

Just be sure to save the leftover Take 5 bars for me. ;)

Suz said...

I agree. Some of my most favorite childhood memories are of trick-or- treating. I loved the slightly scary, transgressive feeling I got from being out at night in the cold and dark, traveling from the warm lamplight of one door to another. I can't wait until my kids are old enough to do so. This year, however, someone in our neighborhood put up a sign in their yard denouncing halloween and the practice of trick-or-treating. It's not going to stop me, though. We've already bought our candy and will have our porch light burning bright tomorrow.

Jay said...

I never thought about it before, but you're right, it's one of the few times that people actually socialize anymore, get out of the house, meet the neighbours.

Rhea said...

I adore Halloween. Here in Boston there is a big bike ride (about 150 riders), all costumed, many freaky. We ride into Harvard Square and take over the city of Cambridge!

Anjali said...

Great post! And it's so true. I also love Halloween because it indirectly celebrates the advent of Fall, my favorite season.

Jennifer said...

We're just starting to do Halloween in Australia, which 5 years ago I hated for being creeping americanisation, but now that I have children, I love it for all the reasons you mention.

It's not at all commercial here, just something the kids under 10 do around the neighbourhood with whatever costumes happen to be in the house.

tracy thompson said...

Miriam: You're right. Things have changed. Nobody has more certifiable Fundamentalist credentials than me (Southern Fundamentalist at that). When I was growing up, dancing, cigarettes, booze and cursing were all mortal sins; I tell my friends I was an adult before I knew you could have sex without drugs and rock-and-roll (because I grew up hearing it as all one word: of our friend Satan). And yet: Halloween was a blast. Nobody ever said a thing to me about it being a Satanic celebration. It was about costumes and candy and rating which neighbors had the best giveaways. If I recall correctly, my church--East Point Christian Church, East Point, Ga.--even held a few Halloween parties on the premises. All this hullaballoo about Halloween is NOT a Fundamentalist tradition. It's new, and I don't like it one bit.

Eden said...

Karrie told me about this essay and I agree with her that it's fantastic. With Halloween being the second biggest holiday for retailers, someone must be embracing it. It's just fun.

PunditMom said...

Hear, hear! Let's get back to the fun of family traditions without all the baggage about whether we're promoting something that will turn our children into pagans!

It's fun to dress up in costumes and eat a little chocolate. So why not embrace it just for that?

PunditMom said...

I agree. Why not just have fun, and let the kids trick-or-treat together as neighborhood friends and have a little kid-bonding time? A little chocolate never hurt anyone!