When I was a kid, there were only two holidays I looked forward to: Christmas and Halloween.
I grew up in the 60’s in small-town Alabama town where Halloween was — well, magic.
I remember spending hours thinking of what I wanted to be on Halloween. Those were the days before Walmart ate the South, but we we did have shopping options even then. In Sylacauga, we had Grants, a sort of small-time version of the aforementioned abomination, and we also had a Woolworth and a couple of five and dime stores. I loved looking at the store-bought costumes and dreaming of what I could be on that scariest of nights. Marvel super heroes were high on the list, as were the monsters of the day: Frankenstein, the wolf man, the skeleton, and Dracula. Girls had a variety of witch costumes, along with ballerinas, princesses, and other “girly” options.
A lot of those years, dreaming was all I could do, but it was enough. I never got too many store-bought costumes, as it was the 60’s and money was tight. Several years I went trick-or-treating as a ghost. Po’ folks know how to improvise, and two eye-holes can convert an old bed sheet into a pretty scary ghost.
Then there was the selection of the pumpkin and the hours of planning associated with designing a proper jack-o-lantern. Should it be scary or funny? I usually chose scary. After all, it was a night to be delightfully frightened.
Halloween night was glorious for a kid in those days. We dressed up, pretending to be something we weren’t, and waited for dark. Kind of like most adults do now on a daily basis.
First there was the trick-or-treat haul. In those magical days, you could hit a hundred houses and end up with a grocery bag full of candy and treats. We went all over town without a thought that there was any danger involved. After the town neighborhoods, we went to the cotton mill village across the tracks. Even the po’ folks there were good for treats, though they were more likely to be “home-made” candy like caramel apples or popcorn balls. We never had fears that anyone would try to poison us or hurt us in any way, because people just didn’t do that back in those days.
After the big candy haul, there were at least two Halloween carnivals: one at the city school and one at the county school. You could score some candy there too, but mostly you went to the various booths for trinkets. Drop a fishing pole line over a wall with a clothes pin as bait, and land a plastic whistle or set of vampire fangs. Throw a bean bag through a hole in a back board and win a fat Fred Flintstone pencil eraser or a piece of bubble gum. One year I scored a nifty plastic skull ring with fake ruby red eyes. I think I wore that treasure until the eyes fell out and it got so tight that I had to give it up or risk losing the finger.
When I got older, haunted houses became the rage. I got to be a part of a really good one as a teenager–which was sponsored, by the way, by my church. We had Frankenstein’s lab (with an adult dressed as Frankenstein–complete, with neck bolts), an elaborate cardboard maze that you had to crawl through (completely in the dark), the feast of the damned (which involved lots of bloody teenagers sitting around a large table appearing to eat raw flesh), and several other “themed” rooms. It was a big hit in our town, and we raised lots of money for youth choir and mission trips the following summers.
Now I’ll admit there were some tricks in those days. Major evil activities. You could be hit by an egg or have your yard toilet-papered.
I must pause here in this epic tale to make a clear, concise, statement of fact: at no time during these childhood revelries did I feel a compulsion to worship Satan. It was simply a night of pretending and fun. The innocence of childhood in all its glory.
But at some point, Halloween was hijacked. I think it probably started in the 80’s.
People got mean, and there began to be a danger that the treats a child might receive could be tainted with drugs or poison. Hospitals began to offer free x-rays of treats to make sure they didn’t contain razor blades or straight pins. You could no longer roam freely to get your treats–only to houses of people you knew. This was the Halloween trick-or-treating my kids experienced. It was not magic.
Then some of the churches decided that Halloween was evil. That it was a pagan holiday that could lead to all sorts of demonic spiritual problems. Halloween carnivals turned into “Fall Festivals” and haunted houses became “Judgment Houses” in which you were shown where you were headed if you didn’t repent of your evil ways.
I remember the first time I heard this idea in church. The Redhead and I were in a Sunday School class with other couples who had young children. Before the Bible lesson, a young lady got up and read a prepared statement about the potential evils of Halloween, it’s pagan history, and how we as good Baptists should not allow our children to participate.
I allowed her to finish, raised my hand, and stood to make an unsolicited opposing viewpoint. I wanted to say “Woman, what the hell is wrong with you? Are you nuts?” But I was, after all, in church, so I restrained myself. I simply pointed out that we had a lot more serious evil to worry about: drugs, pornography, child molesters, sex that was already becoming common among preteens, etc. And of course, divorce. Want to mess up a kid? Give him two or three sets of parents to deal with (I noticed several couples shifting in their chairs on that last one). If you want to fight evil, fight real evil. There’s plenty around without looking for imaginary versions.
Funny thing, I still see church lady around town. She won’t speak or look me in the eye.
I realize that the Halloween of my youth is gone, and it’s not coming back. Childhood innocence in general is gone. It was murdered by cable television, the Internet, and all the other trappings of prosperity. But mostly it was ruined by adults who refuse to be adults.
I think that’s a real shame. I might even say that it’s evil.
*I originally wrote this piece in 2010. It got me in a bit of trouble with some church folk, but I didn’t much care — then or now. Keep your “Fall Festival,” “Judgement House,” and “Reformation Day,” and I’ll keep my memories and my opinion.
Grace and peace to you either way. RC