US: It’s Halloween, Hallelujah!

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Halloween ain’t what it used to be. When I was young, it ranked an easy third behind Christmas and Easter (and Easter is second only because I was raised in a Christian home and nothing comes before those two events—as it should be). Not only did we dress up and walk our neighborhoods, my dad, the Baptist minister, would go to great lengths to scare all the trick-or-treaters that dared ring our bell by dressing as Dracula—including full makeup and a cardboard box coffin--and shining a flashlight from under his chin for effect. He perfected the proper inflections in the phrase, “I vant to suck your blood.” Our church always had a haunted house run by the youth, one I was not allowed to enter even with Child of the Staff cred, because it was too scary. This was not a Hell House with a presentation of the gospel at the end, it was just chock full of scares and gross outs like every other haunted house in town. Bowls of “body parts,” chain saw wielding maniacs and lots of fake blood. I loved standing outside and hearing people scream and then watch them exit laughing.

But something changed in the time between my last neighborhood walk as a ghost and my first Halloween celebration with our own kids. The church, as one entity, rose up and revolted against the holiday. It was now in bad form to walk the neighborhood so we now had to walk through the mall and get candy from bored store employees. No longer was the hospital on call for medical help after a trip and fall in a bulky costume, but now they were offering free x-raying of everyone’s bag of candy. And if you didn’t want to go to the mall, then every church put on an alternative to Halloween, complete with games for the kids and enough candy to choke an elephant. Yes, it was safe but it also felt sterile (although the intentions were honorable).

But the real question was what to do with our kids when we, as parents, straddled both worlds? We understood where our church was coming from but we also wanted our kids to experience the special night of walking the neighborhood, ringing doorbells and shouting “trick or treat!” Initially we made the best of it, supporting the church and making some really cool costumes to help create a special night for our clueless kids. When attending Hallelujah Harvest at the church, the costumes had to be either Biblical or “non threatening.” One year William dressed as Goliath, complete with a wadded up masking tape rock on his forehead, a small trickle of blood added to push the envelope. Over the years the kids dressed as sheep, clowns and royalty. (Every year there were multiple Queen Esther costumes. Here is a question for your discussion groups: Why not Rahab?) Occasionally our kids won the costume contest, a source of pride for the kids and mom, the seamstress. And there was always some kid trying to skirt the rules, the most memorable being the middle school boy who showed up dressed as The Whore of Babylon. He didn't make it past the front door.

When the kids got a little older, we began splitting time, hitting up the church for “happy hour” and then joining a gathering at a friend's house and walking the neighborhood en mass. The window for Halloween is so short that before we knew it the kids were choosing to work the game booths at church instead of hitting up houses and all of the decision-making faded away. And standing at the food booth, dishing up slaw and chili dogs, I could appreciate how much fun the little ones were having in the church parking lot, jumping on inflated slides and engaging in cake walks, but I also knew that my house was one of the places the neighborhood kids had to skip, their parents muttering that we were probably at the mall. Or church. And it hurt a little, but it wasn't enough pain that a Snickers mini couldn't heal.

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