True story: Halloween has never been my favorite holiday.
I enjoyed it as a child. Dressing up was for everyday, but the addition of free candy made Halloween a special day in kid life. Not that the candy we collected back then was anything — in volume or quality — compared to my kids’ annual haul. In my place and time, a mini Snickers bar was a veritable unicorn, to be revered and celebrated.
Halloween was certainly different in the 1980s. The 6 o’clock news was stocked with rumors of “razor blades in the apples,” so we were forbidden to eat anything that wasn’t prepackaged and store-bought. And even if the candy didn’t contain razor blades, it was rife with nuts, artificial colors, sweeteners, gluten, and toxic waste, probably.
Kids of the 1980s didn’t know and we didn’t care. We inhaled our candy with gusto, and counted the days until next year.
Costumes were different, too. In the late 70s and early 80s, a store-bought costume likely consisted of a moulded plastic mask with tiny eye slits — good luck crossing the street in the dark! — and a plastic smock, printed with some semblance of a cartoon character.
The first store-bought costume I remember wearing was Big Bird (à la Sesame Street). My little brother was Cookie Monster, and my big sister was Wonder Woman (à la Lynda Carter). Those three costumes were steadily handed down through four children — although by the time my brothers should have hit Wonder Woman age, they were in a hardcore ninja phase instead.
In the ensuing years, our costumes were generally of the homemade variety, assembled from odds-and-ends we had on hand, or pieced together at the Salvation Army.
Sometime around first- or second-grade, I went to school costumed as a baby: pony tail on top of the head, and a blanket tied on like a diaper. I remember running the short distance from home to school, trying not to trip over the “diaper,” which kept falling down around my ankles.
Somewhere between Big Bird and the Baby, we had our first big Halloween letdown. Both Mom and Dad had their wisdom teeth out, on Halloween no less. No trick-or-treating for us that year. Sad trumpet.
Yet we survived.
Now that I’m an adult, Halloween is just okay. If I like Halloween, it’s really because because my kids like it. I’m over the “make-costumes-by-hand-so-they-can-be-unique” phase, so whatever my kids can find at Walmart for $20 is fine by me. I buy a little candy, we make a short route around the neighborhood. And we usually have a gathering with our neighbors that includes food and adult beverages. Hooray for incentives.
—Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen lots of discussion about how Christians should navigate Halloween in our postmodern culture. I’ve always known people who do not participate in Halloween, and it certainly isn’t new. But this year, I’ve seen several stories about school Halloween parties that were canceled, because a family that doesn’t celebrate Halloween complained. On the nationwide Facebook page for our homeschooling group, I’ve read several posts discussing the pros and cons of Halloween events, and whether or not they should be held if some families cannot participate for reasons of conscience.
And, although the reasons for Halloween “abstinence” seem to vary, the parents’ justification for canceling these events is pretty consistent:
I don’t want my kids to feel left out, or disappointed.
I’m not going to flog the irony of disappointing many to avoid disappointing a few. I’m not even going to argue the merits — or lack thereof — of participating in Halloween, because I think educated parents can make those decisions just fine without my opinion. Bravo, parents, for taking a stand!
But I will say this, from my heart, to any and all parents: Please do not cripple your children by insulating them from disappointment.
Our kids need disappointment. Sometimes, they need to be left out. They need to see how it feels to take a stand on principle, and experience the often uncomfortable results.
Getting pummeled by the cold wind of the prevailing culture, and still standing firm, builds character. It strengthens us in our faith. It draws us closer to the One who was spat upon, beaten, and reviled for our sake.
So why are we attempting to sand down every splinter and cushion every blow for our children?
If your family has chosen not to participate in Halloween — or play a certain video game, or watch a certain movie — I applaud you. But instead of insisting that the world-at-large conform to our choices and do likewise, we need to share those reasons with our kids.
We are sorry you’re disappointed, kids. But we choose not to do [insert activity] because it doesn’t coincide with our family’s values. Here’s why…
They need to hear us explain our convictions. They need a chance to ask questions — perhaps even to argue. And they need to see us standing firm under scrutiny, too. We can be compassionate in their disappointment. We can encourage them in resilience. Overall, we can pray.
Why does it matter?
Someday, our kids will be confronted with bigger choices. Alcohol, drugs, promiscuous sex, pornography, bigotry, violence, theft, gossip, greed, and more. Will our kids be courageous enough to stand alone while their peers pave a wide and easy road? Or will they be so afraid of getting “left out” that they embrace the normative, the typical, the herd “safety” of sin?
Without doubt, disappointment is going to come to our kids someday. So let’s not leave them as novices in facing and enduring it.