Growing up in a strict Christian home, I dreaded Halloween for its inevitable clash with my family’s religious values. Find out how I survived those October nights.
As a zealous Christian who never backed down from secular influences, my mom strove to create a cocooned atmosphere in which my sister and I would live untainted from the depravities of the secular world. Harry Potter was forbidden in the house. I couldn’t select Goosebumps on the Scholastic book orders from school, without severe repercussions. During the holidays we could celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and Independence Day. But, not Halloween.
The Culture Clash
When I was seven years old I remember browsing a Halloween costume magazine in hopes that I could find one costume my mom would approve. Flipping through page after page of menacing masks and diabolical outfits, I almost gave up hope. On the last page, there was a pastor costume, a sheep costume, and an angel costume: those were the only ones approved by my mom. But our family was poor back then, so she couldn’t afford to buy them.
Instead, she dressed me up with a Tang Suit, a bright red traditional Chinese garment worn only on Chinese New Year. I walked to school with utter embarrassment, my face flush red in the same color as my suit. A colorful ensemble of costumed classmates met me at the door: Tommy the Green Ranger, Batman, Wolverine, Superman, and a whole entourage of witches, skeletons, ghouls, and grim reapers. I remember the ridicule I endured: One kid said I looked like a “Chinese Clown.”
Eight years later, I was a rebellious 15-year-old sitting in the back of a yellow school bus listening to Van Halen, Guns and Roses, and Metallica on my CD player. With hair hanging down to my chest, all my classmates swore I was a stoner or some kind of drug dealer. The day before Halloween, I decided on a whim to be Paul Stanley from the ‘70s band KISS. So I swung by Walgreens to pick up a cheap makeup kit and a large wig.
My mom was listening and singing along to Christian music in her beat-up Mercedes-Benz, patiently waiting for me to hop in so she could drop me off at school. Somehow, I snuck into the backseat, undetected with my oversized wig and KISS makeup. Two minutes down the road, she peered into her rear-view mirror and noticed a prominent black star on my right eye encircled by powder white makeup and red lipstick. Her indignation flared up at the sight of my sacrilegious face. She banged her wrathful fist on the steering wheel. She screamed, hollered, and thundered her voice akin to George Whitfield’s fiery sermons about repentance. To this day, I don’t know why she didn’t drive me back home and force me to remove my makeup. Maybe I lied to her and said there was a huge math test coming up.
A Safe Alternative
While every other kid in the neighborhood roamed the streets to trick-or-treat, my sister and I were sent to church. The youth pastors read scriptures to us and stood on their soapboxes to tell us why Halloween is evil. Fire and brimstone warnings hit their yearly peak on those brisk October nights. In the article “Christians and Halloween” on John MacArthur’s Grace to You website, Travis Allen’s sentiments sum up why I spent Halloween nights at church:
Like any other day of the year, Christians should exercise caution as wise stewards of their possessions and protectors of their families. Christian young people should stay away from secular Halloween parties since those are breeding grounds for trouble. Christian parents can protect their children by keeping them well-supervised and restricting treat consumption to those goodies received from trusted sources.“Christians and Halloween” by Travis Allen
During my elementary school years, I attended a strict Lutheran church. On Halloween, we church kids watched Veggie Tales because it was a healthier alternative to doing the devil’s bidding. We held hands and sang songs about heaven. We watched McGee and Me episodes because every American church in the ‘90s had those VHS cassettes in their video library. We played Bible Bingo. We ate stale refreshments because this church was always on a budget. We bemoaned our involuntary confinement.
During my junior high years, I started attending an affluent non-denominational church. Because this church had ample funds and a lax approach to doctrine, they turned their entire two-story parking lot into an amusement park on Halloween. There were rides, carnival booths, water-balloon tossing games, and pie-eating contests. Unlike the previous church, there wasn’t much of a Christ-centric focus as long as the kids were immune to the fear of missing out.
Defend the Perimeter
The culmination of Halloween is trick-or-treating. For most kids in the neighborhood, it’s a countdown to the best part of the day. For my sister and me, it was a countdown to impending doom. We dreadfully anticipated an onslaught of neighborhood kids knocking on our door expecting candy only to be turned away awkwardly from the staunch defender of our sanctified home: my mom.
Our battle plan every Halloween consisted of these strategies: close the blinds, turn the lights off after 6 p.m. pretending to be asleep, and place a basket filled with hardened White Rabbit candy from last year’s Chinese New Year festivities near the door. If any neighborhood kids persisted on knocking on our door, we at least had a conciliatory morsel to offer before shooing them away.
One Halloween night, a pack of neighborhood goblins knocked on our door and refused to leave until they received their candy. Some of them even threatened to egg our house. With no choice but to confront, my mom opened the door and sternly told those kids she doesn’t celebrate Halloween. She proceeded to preach and lecture them, thus eliciting side-eyes and contemptuous stares.
Although I’m now 31 years old and detached from mainstream religion, I still feel the lingering effects of my mom’s influences. Nowadays, I don’t have the slightest reservation dropping by a PG-13 type pumpkin festival on Halloween, but I’ll still have a knot in my stomach if I swing by a rated-R type Halloween block party full of demonic costume-wearing partygoers and their bottomless alcohol. Therefore, when I have kids, I’ll let them decide if they want to celebrate Halloween. I’ll do my best to instill biblical values in them, hoping they make the best decisions down the road. Whatever they celebrate, they’ll do so without religious PTSD.