OK, I admit I grew up in a rural area of California where we didn't celebrate Halloween. I mean, we did have "harvest festivals" at our church where we took hayrides (through the cemetery, no less) and bobbed for apples and some people dressed up. But when you have to drive 15 minutes to each house to trick-or-treat, it's just not a big holiday. Plus, it was right around both Reformation and All Saints Day, two big Lutheran holidays.
Then we moved to Colorado, to a suburban area, where we did Trick-or-Treat. But my family's interest in the holiday extended to rummaging around the night before for something we could pass off as a costume.
I now live in a neighborhood where I'd estimate that the winning entries in the Halloween House Decorating contest have expended four figures to put giant animatronic scary things in their yard, 6-feet-long spiders crawling over their house and roof, you name it.
My last neighborhood (Capitol Hill, DC) had such dramatic Halloween celebrations that people came in from miles around. One neighbor used to recreate scary movies or videos (e.g. Friday the 13th, Michael Jackson's Thriller) with actual actors and dancers.
Truth be told, I'm not a huge fan of Halloween. But neither do I forbid my children from taking part. The older one will be a cheeseburger this year, the younger an Octopus. I do forbid any dressing up as anything scary or demonic, but just can't bring myself to ban a holiday where people give my kids candy and tell them how cute they are.
But I did pause after reading this column from Amity Shlaes, headlined "Halloween's Pagan Themes Fill West's Faith Vacuum." She notes that consumers are expected to spend $6.86 billion on Halloween this fall. Here's how her piece concludes:
There’s a reason for the pull of the pagan. In the U.S., we’ve been vigorously scrubbing our schools and other public spaces of traces of monotheistic religion for many decades now. Such scrubbing leaves a vacuum. The great self-deception of modern life is that nothing will be pulled into that vacuum. Half a century ago, the psychologist Carl Jung noted the heightened interest in UFOs, and concluded that the paranormal was “modern myth,” a replacement for religion.
Children or adults who today relish every detail of zombie culture or know every bit of wizarding minutiae are seeking something to believe in. That church, mosque and synagogue are so controversial that everyone prefers the paranormal as neutral ground is disconcerting. There’s something unsettling about the education of a child who comfortably enumerates the rules for surviving zombie apocalypse but finds it uncomfortable to enumerate the rules of his grandparents’ faith, if he knows them.
Perhaps when walking down your street this Oct. 31, you’ll see a child in an Aslan costume, or one dressed as Caspian, C.S. Lewis’s prince. The “Narnia” series was Lewis’s premeditated effort to lure kids to Jesus Christ through myth. The manipulative Lewis was on to something: Parents can keep children away from religion, but they can’t stop children from believing in something.
Fans of the orange holiday may want to pause for a moment to look at the empty spaces between its rituals, as with the pumpkin’s smile. Some of us forgo it to dedicate ourselves to one faith or another. But you don’t have to reject Halloween to ask what it may be replacing.
Exactly. It's worth at least being intentional in how we celebrate this holiday and it's worth thinking about what we say by how we celebrate it.
Also, licorice can kill you. I learned that today and felt it my civic duty to share this key news with my fellow licorice lovers.