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Why I decided it was OK to trick-or-treat

When I began my parenting career, I was in the camp that said, ‘Trick-or-treating is at best dangerous, and at worst, evil.’ I once gave a speech in school about why Christians shouldn’t celebrate Halloween. Of course, that was also a time when we were more concerned about trying to figure out what our music said backwards than we were worried about what we could plainly hear forward! All that to say, my practices as a parent when it came to Halloween were well-intentioned, but misguided.

Lots of families have very good reasons why they do or do not celebrate any particular holiday. I’m not about to tell them they should do otherwise. But I have, in the last almost-11 years, changed my own mind about trick-or-treating. And here’s why: my reasons before were bad.

First of all, yes, there may be terrible people out there who use that night to prey on innocent children and perform sacrifices to evil spirits. But if I stayed indoors every time I heard about someone doing something unspeakable and dangerous, I would never leave my house. And I would cower in fear every New Year’s Eve.

More importantly, I no longer am convinced it is the devil’s holiday. All Hallows Eve is the night before a Catholic celebration to honor all of the saints. But cultures all over the world have stories about the dead. When immigrants came to the United States, they brought these traditions with them. Trick-or-treating as we know it is a combination of all of them.

Across places and times, including Ireland, China, Egypt and Mexico, people believed that souls needed food to nourish them on their journey to heaven. So homeowners left out meals for them, lest the wandering spirits become angry and play a bad trick on their home. Add into the mix a European belief from the Middle Ages. They were terrified of these lost souls who wandered the earth looking for new bodies to possess. So they lit fires in the cemeteries and disguised themselves to scare away the souls. (It may seem like a bad thing to recreate, but it’s the same reason why we have bridesmaids at weddings?)

Anyway, poor people started putting two and two together. They would disguise themselves, go to a neighbors door, and ask for “soulcakes”. The beggars promised to pray the lost souls into heaven if they received the food. If not well, then, let’s just say the ‘souls’ would return that night and play a trick on the homeowner. Pretty soon, people started sending their children to beg. Housewives gave them food but the kids were expected to perform a song or dance.

Trick-or-treating began in immigrant neighborhoods in the US in the early 1900s. After a story appeared in the October 1947 Jack and Jill, the tradition spread. Radio shows the following year featured it, and when Disney created a 1952 cartoon about it, trick-or-treating was here to stay.

But besides the fact that my history was wrong and my fears are at bay, there are a couple of positive reasons to participate in trick-or-treat night. Perhaps most importantly, it brings communities together. In an age when people can live in a house for five years and not know their neighbors names, kids have the gall to show up and ring my doorbell. Eegads! The little brats want candy. But take a moment and you just might learn that a few bucks worth of Hershey bars will give you the opportunity to meet their parents, learn their names and exchange phone numbers. Maybe the next day you can wave and greet them by name. That’s why we don’t even have a ‘harvest festival’ at my church.

Good reason #2 to get out there and have your children shill for tooth-decayers! It’s fun. And I’m willing to put my name on the line to say your kids won’t turn to the dark side because of it.


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