Parenting

Parenting Roundtable: Halloween...Love It? Hate It? It's Evil? Celebrate It?

Every week our Parenting writers weigh in on issues large and small and you have the opportunity to share your insights in the comments section below. We’d love it if you’d join us for a cup of coffee and some great conversation!

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Question: How does your family handle Halloween and trick-or-treat? Do you love it? Hate it? Forbit it for religious (or other) reasons? Do you have concerns about the focus on death and frightening images? 

Jamie Wilson: Halloween is my birthday, so the entire family loves to celebrate it because I really get into it. We have cake, we do elaborate costumes, sometimes we decorate the house, and we admire our neighbors’ spooky yards. This year my girls are going to be Pokemon – Squirtle and Charizard. I have a lovely dark green medieval dress from Holy Clothing, and my husband will undoubtedly be wearing his Captain America sweatshirt with the built-in mask — because he can.

Part of our tradition is passing out full-size candy. I tell the kids it’s because I’m part hobbit, and hobbits traditionally give gifts on their birthdays rather than receiving them. We all love seeing the expressions on the faces of little ones who get their tiny costumed paws on large bags of M&Ms and Starburst, and it’s great to give them to older kids who’ve obviously been tasked with helping shepherd the little people. The little teen gangs out to score as much candy as possible get the decoy bucket of miniatures, at least until the little ones have all gone home.

Because we lightheartedly approach Halloween as a fun holiday, not a scary one, my children have always been unintimidated by the death-themed costumes and decorations. The scary costumes, I explain to them, are part of the tradition, which long ago was designed to either frighten away or blend in with the spirits that people once thought were free to wander on that night. My little girls find them fascinating, not horrifying, and often point them out to me, especially the ghosts. They are very clear that those things are not real ghosts because real ghosts go to Heaven, and we’re only sad about that because it will be so very long before we see them again. They prefer the dog costumes; our neighborhood has a ton of dog lovers and quite a few dress up their pets. (This year our poor put-upon Pomeranian is a very hairy taco, thanks to my middle son.)

And candy. Candy, candy, candy. Here again, I’m fortunate. My girls generally prefer fruit and yogurt to chocolate (I know, right?) so it’s easy to trade for the things I find iffy in their bags. They also like to sort things, so there’s a job I only have to supervise. And they love — seriously, literally love — to share. If it’s Pixie Stix in those bags, all bets are off. But anything else? I let them indulge that night — they’re full of cake anyway from my birthday celebration earlier — and then everything they don’t deem special gets pooled into the communal family candy bin. We don’t treat candy as special and my girls know it’s an unhealthy (but tasty) treat, so my kids have always been more interested in other foods anyway.

Bethany Mandel:  Jews don’t really celebrate Halloween. There’s a sort of equivalent involving dressing up and yummy food called Purim, which is in the spring.

Some of my fondest memories of childhood are of Halloween. I loved dressing up and meeting my neighbors and getting lots of candy. Even though 95% of the Orthodox Jews in my community don’t do anything to celebrate, if my kids want to do it, I’m open to going trick-or-treating with them with leftover Purim costumes.

Michael T. Hamilton:  A critical question that accompanies much of what our kids watch, read, see, and hear–and how they dress up on Halloween–is, “Does this belong to a culture of life, or a culture of death?”

Our reason for asking this question is simply that our family belongs to the former. In many ways our society celebrates that which “is passing away”–things like materialism, lust, and fame. These are hopeless substitutes for people who have hitched their life’s meaning to its own star, which, like every human’s, is fast falling to the grave.

Biblical Christians regard “the grave” not as the next step, but as a step backward–the just reward for sinful creatures (which my wife and I definitely are). As Christ-followers our family celebrates the new life God has given us. On Halloween our culture asks, “Isn’t this dead, hopeless, rotting, trapped, terrified, terrifying figure funny?” Our family instead celebrates life by asking, with the Apostle Paul, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

We don’t assume that every 11-year-old with a “Scream” mask consciously celebrates the culture of death. More likely, he has no idea what narrative he is wrapped up in. [But our kids are learning.] … Meanwhile, we will happily dress them up (usually as heroes), take them begging on Halloween–and talk with them. So leave your light on.

Read Michael T. Hamilton’s “Wondering How Your Christian Family Should Handle Halloween?

Megan Fox: I’m in agreement with the celebration of the Culture of Life. We don’t allow our kids to dress up like demons or murderers — that just doesn’t work here. We trick-or-treat happily (although my girls will skip houses with gory decor) and they’ve never had a problem finding a nice costume as their favorite superhero or princess. This year they want to be the Parent Trap Twins…yay for me! No costumes required that they can’t find in their closets.

I grew up without Halloween and I never understood why trick-or-treating was bad. It seems to me, like most pagan holidays (Christmas/Easter), Christians have co-opted them to take the dangerous and evil practices out (human sacrifice, orgies, incest) and replace them with harmless, Christ-honoring traditions. This is how Christianity took over the pagan world. It wasn’t by destroying all pagan traditions, but by co-opting them and whitewashing them of the evil and sinful elements.

It is unwise (in my opinion) to allow our kids to glamorize death and murder and evil. I don’t believe that by “mocking” death you take the sting out of it. I teach my children that we should have nothing to do with the Culture of Death. I don’t think it’s funny or fun. I also do not (and never will) allow haunted houses, haunted woods, or haunted insane asylums (which is something we actually have here that the kids all love to do). Evil is real, and I don’t think it’s a game to play — you shouldn’t invite that kind of thing into your life. There is enough suffering and madness in the world. Why add to it? But walking on a fine fall day in crunchy leaves all dressed up as your favorite character to grab some free candy??? We’re in! 

Read Megan Fox’s “Here’s What Your Trick-or-Treat Candy Is Saying About You

Lauren Spagnoletti: Since we only have a 15-month old, my husband and I haven’t really jumped into Halloween as a family yet.  When I was young, my brother and I dressed up every year and trick-or-treated around our neighborhood. Then I grew up and became way too cool for school. Now that we’re older, we’re excited about the prospect of decorating our new house for Halloween and having Jake join in the fun of dressing up and trick-or-treating. We embrace the spooky side of the holiday and the fun that we’ll have thinking of costumes every year. We see it as another opportunity to have fun as a family.

Julie Prince: Our family has always celebrated Halloween. I grew up in a family where we would go all out with huge costume parties with friends and family. When I was a kid, we would trick-or-treat until 9 or 10 p.m., filling our pillow cases to the top! Then we would come home and dump it all on the floor and trade. We celebrate the same way with our kids.

We come from a long line of women and a family with very strong intuitions, superstitions, and traditions. They believed in the theory that it comes back to you in threes — a full moon, energy, good luck charms, such as a horseshoe over your door, etc. It wasn’t uncommon to use the Ouija board or get a tarot reading from my aunts (think Practical Magic). My sisters and I loved to be scared and play “Bloody Mary, Bloody Bones” or “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board.”

There was a road my friends and I used to go on near Halloween time called “Blue Mist Road.” It was in the woods and very dark at night. Legend has it that people died on a certain part of the road. If you were brave enough, you were supposed to drive your car to a certain tree, put all the windows down, turn off the lights and the motor, lay on the horn, and wait for 10 minutes. If your car started, you were safe, if not, the ghosts were coming to get you. It was terrifying!

As a young girl, I was exposed to and began a love for the arts and two of the first plays I ever saw were Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” To this day, they remain my favorites. Halloween is a special and amazing time of year that just makes us happy.

Susan L.M. Goldberg: That was always a big debate in our house because, as Bethany pointed out, Jews don’t do Halloween. For me, it was all about the home-made costumes and the candy stash that I definitely didn’t need then and certainly don’t need now. My husband never once trick-or-treated, but enjoyed handing candy out to the neighborhood kids from a young age. Chances are our children will do the same and get their treats on Purim instead, but I look forward to seeing how they respond to the holiday and the choices they make as they grow regarding what they will and won’t celebrate and how they’ll go about the celebration. That’ll be my gauge regarding my own parenting success and I look forward to their own unique perspectives on the issue.

Brianna Sharbaugh: I also desire to steer clear of our society’s death culture. Beyond that, the realities of the occult and the significance they place on this time of the year is just not something I want to associate with. (Obviously, my kid donning a Spiderman suit and getting candy is not an expression of the occult.)

That said, my husband and I have not made a solid decision on what we will do for Halloween. We live on a dead end street just removed from town, so no one ventures out far enough to see us. Since our son is just shy of 2-years old, we have not yet made a decision regarding trick-or-treating.

I grew up not celebrating Halloween and instead, enjoying a huge arcade and ball pit at our local fun zone with my sister most years (since all the other kids were out in the dark and cold). It was a pretty sweet set-up and after we bought the half-price clearance candy the next day, we never complained. My husband dressed up with his siblings and went to their grandma’s house for candy. We live too far from grandma to accomplish that, so my husband is trying to convince me to give our son the best of both worlds — dressing him up and taking him to a similar fun zone with a giant ball pit to ourselves. I’m sure a bag of candy would wind up in the car on the way home too.

I have no problem with dressing up, and I think it should be more of an any-day-of-the-year event. I would probably even surrender some of Mommy’s secret candy stash for an exceptionally creative costume. I do not foresee trick-or-treating in our family’s future, but my husband will make that final call. I am sure he will come up with a fun solution everyone can live with.

Let us know what you think in the comments below!

See previous PJ Parenting Roundtables:

Helicopter or Free Range Parenting?

How Often Do You Give Your Children Baths?

How Do You Explain Pictures of Deceased Family Members to Kids?

Do You Allow Your Kids to Say ‘I Hate You’?