Every year on October 31st, scores of children fill the neighborhoods with activity. They’ll run the streets (looking both ways) creatively dressed to impress, scare or invite a laugh. Their cheaply made costumes are designed to look like recent television or movie characters, or more traditionally, to depict some otherworldly character or a ghoul from beyond the grave if not from Hell itself. If one is lucky, this costume came complete with some potable but not desirable jelly-like substance, which one would smear along the side of his mouth depicting the blood or jelly sandwich which he must have eaten without cleaning up afterward. Everyone in the neighborhood would participate.
That is me and my large number of siblings. If you’re thinking it’s because I grew up in Kenya or Germany, I’ll tell you right now that is not it. The reasons were both clear and unclear, but suffice it to say that we didn’t want to go to Hell. We thought participation in Halloween was a precursor to that, so we passionately disavowed it, mourning the futures of those blinded by its lies.
Trick-or-treaters came to our door like they did everyone else's. If we could help it, we would avoid answering the door. You can picture a large family hiding in the back of their house, hoping the little tikes will get the point after one or two knocks that we’re not going to answer. One year, we answered every time, shooing kids away with disappointment as we told them with our noses up that we did not celebrate Halloween. Another year, turning off the porch light was sufficient deterrence, which was perhaps something we should have tried all along.
The next day, I would usually gather with my neighborhood friends, as they sifted through their treasure trove of candy, assessing their gains. I was a little jealous, but also a little afraid to accept any candy for fear it was cursed. I was at risk of being exposed to such a curse, should I partake.
I did test the cursed waters once, and it goes without saying that I did not (at least so far) end up in hell for it. In fact, nothing happened at all, except of course that I ruined my dinner.
Looking back on these days, as we often do when we age, I’ve gained some new perspectives. While my siblings and I did eventually get the opportunity to celebrate Christmas, we never did knock on doors and sing in off-key unison “trick or treat” or anything that resembled that.
We did however have the religious replacement for Halloween. Many anti-Halloween churches have something called “Hallelujah Night” the “much better but still a knockoff alternative to Halloween”. Hallelujah night took place on church soil, often with costumes most likely resembling Bible characters. These costumes were mostly made out of sheets, or bathrobes paired with fake beards drawn on with markers and perhaps a large walking stick. There was a variety of harvest season homemade carnival-like games designed to make kids work for their candy. And while we would abruptly turn away our neighbors in an instant if they came to our door, we would most certainly tell them they were invited to join us in OUR celebration, on our terms, and on our turf.
Our neighbors were highly unlikely to come, and who can blame them? Our costumes were stupid, our candy acquisition process was too complicated and it was likely that they would get negative stares for dressing like a witch, not to mention being a heathen.
Besides the fact that I glossed over the not celebrating Christmas topic, I want to draw your attention to something very important. We were outsiders, by choice. And we made sure as hell (sorry for the pun) that people around us were told they were outsiders to us. We didn’t inspire anyone to be like us, because if I’m being honest, they all thought trick or treating was fun, and couldn’t seem to come up with a reason not to participate.
What they did do by participating in "Satan’s holiday" (<---perfect opportunity for scare quotes) is come up with a way to connect briefly with the people that live around them. They made friends, they celebrated community, and maybe some of the teenagers damaged a little property, but for the most part, the result was the neighborhoods were more connected, more hospitable, and safer.
I believe that Neighborhoods are healthier when people are acquainted and engaged with each other. Halloween presents just such an opportunity to induce more of that. Being outside and being connected to your local living community is something I believe strongly in. That’s why I think that a return to the standard of homes with front porches contributes to a healthier planet as I explained in a prior article.
So this weekend, I will be gathering with several families in the neighborhood, creating a welcoming atmosphere with a bonfire, handing out full-size candy bars, surrounded by decorations of the human skeletal system. We’ll be sharing food and drink, meeting new people, and creating community while perhaps telling a scary story or two.
Halloween has its roots in ancient mythology. The objections that some religious people have to do as well. If there is a hell, I assure you it is not lined with people who are there because they participated in community with their neighbors on October 31st. But it might be lined with people that turned their neighbors away for no good reason.
This article is a personal memoir that includes excerpts from my book MADE FROM LEFTOVERS. It is currently being shopped for publishing. To receive updates and previews of MADE FROM LEFTOVERS, sign up for my newsletter.