My son loves to hear stories about his parents childhood. I grew up somewhat less conventionally than my husband, because I went to christian school, and was largely sheltered from the life most of my peers experienced. My social life was pretty exclusive to school and youth group. I knew very few kids that weren’t similar to me in faith, ethnicity and so on. My life was full of restrictions. My parents closely monitored behavior, diet, wardrobe etc. My mom has always tried to dress me as if I’m the pastor’s wife on Little House on the Prairie. To this day she loves to buy me puritanical nightgowns as a gift. I relish modeling them for my husband. I give him a come hither look while being swallowed by a Victorian neckline and yards of linen and lace. He usually takes one look at me and says “Your mom clearly doesn’t want us to have sex” and walks away.
These restrictions were also applied to our holidays. Christianity or the perception of it was in the driver’s seat. But it wasn’t always that way. When they got married, my parents loosely identified as Christian or even agnostic in my dad’s case. I was a couple years old before my parents would consider themselves born again. The shift on how this new embrace of faith would affect my childhood happened gradually. From my viewpoint as their child, it represented a slow erosion of freedom and fun.
I went to public school and was allowed to trick or treat up through second grade. During that time I counted myself one of the normal kids in the neighborhood. As a normal kid I had the right to pity/judge the family of 7 down the block who went to christian school and weren’t allowed to trick or treat. I had the benefit of being saved by faith, but we weren’t social pariahs like those other kids. Yet.
Sometime during the summer between second and third grade we became “that family”. I remember being at the breakfast table and hearing my older brother cry and yell. I thought he was hurt, but it turned out my mom had just told him we’d gotten into christian school. I guess I’d been vaguely aware we were on a waiting list, but hadn’t cared that much. At the time I wasn’t concerned. My mom let me know the third and fourth grade classes were so big that year that they added a third and fourth grade combination class, and I would be in that class. My only thought was of one room school houses I’d read about, and I was certain I’d be happy there.
I started having second thoughts when we learned they did not celebrate Halloween at my new school. Instead we were allowed to dress up as Pilgrims and Native Americans the week of Thanksgiving and have a special music program for parents. This was starting to seem pretty crappy. I should have seen it coming. The year I was in second grade my parents threw us for a loop when they suddenly decided they’d let us trick or treat under the condition that we say “happy Halloween” instead of “trick or treat”. I remember asking “why?” and being unsatisfied with the answer I received. It was something about Halloween having a history in the occult and devil worship… I’ve always been skeptical and didn’t see what that had to do with today’s rituals. Halloween night I stood my ground and said “trick or treat”. My brother said “happy Halloween” and kept whispering to me to get with the program or they’d take trick or treating away forever. I did not believe him. Our parents were strict, but they weren’t insane.
As the next Halloween approached, I could tell my parents were building up to a disappointing announcement. They didn’t engage on requests to shop for costumes and would say things like “aren’t you getting too old to trick or treat.” To which we would respond “no way”. Everyone knows you are not too old to trick or treat until seventh grade and we had some solid years in front of us. Eventually they broke it to us that this year we would go to the “hallelujah party” at church instead of trick or treating. They insisted there would be costumes and candy at this party. We really weren’t given an option about it so I tried to keep an open mind.
We did not get a lot of candy growing up. My mom would buy us carob from the health food store instead of chocolate. Albeit, we were forever finding empty peanut m&m wrappers in her purse. ADHD was not a diagnosis when we were growing up. They used the term hyperactivity, and my mom was convinced my brother had it. She was also convinced she could treat him by not allowing him (or me by default) to have artificial flavoring or colorings. One Halloween she actually went around to all our neighbors and gave them packs of peanuts and raisins to give to us. It didn’t take my brother long to figure out the treachery. He insisted on doing extra blocks and going to strangers houses to make up for it. My brother found all kinds of ways to get candy. He always had money and even when we were in preschool he would take me to the ice cream truck when it got out of site from our house. He’d buy something for him and a bomb-pop for me. My silence was for sale and it was cheap. Halloween was a respite from our sugar deprived lives, and this swing to religious based celebrations was only going to be tolerated if candy was involved. Sadly, I don’t remember any candy at these church parties.
The greater issue for me was the costumes. I loved to dress up. I still do. It’s fun to be and look like something else. I was super girly and wanted to be any variety of ballerina-princess out there. Needless to say it was a giant disappointment to learn that costumes had to be based on Bible characters. My mom quickly convinced me to be Mary the first year we went. I ended up being one of a hundred girls wearing bed sheets and carrying a baby doll. The following year I was in fourth grade and desperate to be an individual. The Bible is loaded with hookers, and my parents vetoed anyone who would fall under that umbrella. My mom tried to convince me to be Lot’s wife who turned into a pillar of salt. I didn’t want to be a pillar of salt. I wanted to do the dance of the seven veils.
I settled on a character that I still believe is the coolest person in the Bible (sorry Jesus). I decided I would be Jael. Jael was a heroine in the book of Judges. In her story, the military leader of an army attacking Israel came to her tent to hide. She brought him in, made him a drink, and gave him a place to rest. Once he fell asleep she drove a tent stake through his skull. I could be Jael. She wasn’t a hooker, she was completely badass, and no one else would be her. I think I almost had my dads permission, but was ultimately shut down secondary to the violence level. Out of desperation and spite I decided to be Noah’s ark. As in the actual boat. I made a poorly designed cardboard Noah’s ark that hung over my shoulders like a clapboard sign. It was huge and miserable. Every time I turned around I’d knock at least three kids over. That was the last time I can remember dressing up as a child.
I don’t think we went to the Hallelujah party after the second year. It was too awful, and we decided it would be better to at least hand out candy at home. My mom, by this time, had fully embraced the notion that Halloween was the devils work and she was single-handedly going to take it back for Jesus (sorry Jesus). She bought little evangelical brochures on how to give your life to Christ and made us hand them out with the candy. She had cute cartoon one’s for the little kids, and hell-fire and brimstone one’s for the older kids. We would vet them at the door to decide if they got “love of Christ” or “damnation” with their Snickers. My brother and I did everything we could to beat my parents to the door. We’d chuck candy at the neighbor kids and scream at them to “run”, before my mom embarrassed us by evangelizing their Halloween buckets.
My mom found a way around our interference through the Jack o Lanterns. We had a long cement staircase leading to our front door. There was plenty of room to carve scripture into the pumpkins lining our stairs. One year she carved the full text of John 3:16 into about 15 Jack o Lanterns. There was a single pumpkin with the word “whosoever” carved in it. The problem was people didn’t know if they were supposed to start reading at the bottom of the staircase or the top. No one understood it. I don’t think anyone was saved, but we did wake up to our shredded evangelical brochures and pentagrams drawn in chalk all over the driveway.
Then there was the year my brother revolted by turning his room into a haunted house. He made Kleenex ghosts and had fake spiders and spiderwebs everywhere. The crowning piece was a rubber snake he tied on a string and hung from the ceiling just over his pillow. The day after Halloween we woke to a horrible smell in the house, and my brothers decorations were all taken down. I asked my parents what happened. My mom said she was going to bed and looked in on her son sleeping soundly with a snake slowly spinning over his head, and couldn’t take it. She took down all the ghosts and spiders and finally the snake.
“Where’s my snake?” my brother asked.
My dad sighed and lowered his newspaper. “Your snake is now that horrible smell.”
“You burned my snake in the fireplace?”
“Yes, your mother burned your snake” my father replied. “We are lucky we didn’t die from toxic fumes last night, but at least we are safe from the devil”. He raised the newspaper.
My mother didn’t say anything but maintained a look of sheepish pride.
My brother and I avoided Halloween after this. We lost the battle to make it any fun, and were simply bidding our time until we could celebrate as adults. From the time I was 19 to the time I got pregnant at age 36. I dressed up every Halloween usually as something slutty. It could be a nursery rhyme character or an action hero, but you can bet it was slutty. My brother and I would start planning our new costumes on November 1st for the following year. We loved Halloween. I once told my dad it was their fault, and that they should have let us trick or treat and get it out of our systems. He agreed. My mom stands firm that she did the right thing. I think she turns the light off and pretends she’s not home on Halloween these days. She’s given up on the mission field of trick or treaters.
My brother and I have our own sons now, and they pick their costumes and trick or treat every year. I don’t really dress up, because Halloween is more about the little ones, and I thoroughly enjoy watching my son. Last year he considered not trick or treating because he would have to skip swim practice. I shut that down fast. I told him, “You are 8 years old. This is one night of the year. You can swim anytime!” Besides mommy isn’t halfway done living vicariously through you. I do look forward to a day when he is a little older and doing his own thing. On that day, his dad and I can go to a grown up party or a bar. We’ll be the creepy senior citizens dressed like fools, and have to Uber home. BUT we wont be worshiping the devil.
My lack of church attendance and constant criticism of the christian church may lead people to think I’m a prolific backslider. I’m not. I consider myself a woman of deep faith. I am unwavering in my commitment to the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Life has altered my faith and how I manifest it. However, it’s not a faith that can be lessened by silly things like Halloween and trick or treats, because that’s not real faith in the first place.