Tuesday, 19 October 2010

"The children are coming!".... Hallowe'en.

During the years my children were growing up, I objected strenuously to Hallowe’en festivities of any kind. My children did not dress up as ghosts and vampires, we did not festoon the house with fake cobwebs and death’s heads, or carve ghoulish faces into pumpkins for lanterns.

We did make pumpkin lanterns – a bit, not much, because I found it not very easy to do and nobody liked pumpkin very much – carving patterns into the sides, or just a cheerful smiley face.

On Hallowe’en itself we used to spend the evening in the back of the house, so there were no lights shining at the front. That way, we didn’t have to turn anyone away when they came for trick or treat: we were simply ‘out’.

We continued with the same approach once they reached adulthood. Just as I never preached on Remembrance Sunday with its glorification of war, so I was never ‘at home’ on Hallowe’en.

Then something happened that made me see things differently. Somewhere in America there is an autistic lady whose case study has been published by Oliver Sacks, and who has become something of a celebrity because of the work she has done to make cattle slaughter more gentle and merciful for the animals. A few years ago, UK television showed a documentary about her.

The television people arrived to film her and interview her just before Hallowe’en, and so she happened to mention, with excitement and delight, that she had a drawerful of goodies ready for the children who she knew would be coming to her home for ‘trick or treat’.

This severely autistic lady, known for her compassion and kindness, was focusing not at all on the ghoulies and ghosties, nor yet on the dubious practice of children threatening to do something bad to you if you didn’t come through with the candy. She had one thought in her mind: ‘The children will be coming!’ It filled her with anticipation and delight. All she was thinking about was that they would come to her house in hopes of some treats and candy, and she had lots prepared, because she delighted in them, she welcomed them.

And she put me to shame. She made me see things differently.

Shortly after that I married Badger and moved to Aylesbury. He hated Hallowe’en and ‘trick or treat’. He had moved to Aylesbury from a neighbourhood where teenagers came round trick-or-treating, and pelted his house with eggs. He felt defensive and anxious about what might happen, and was ready to see off any comers to obvert any possibility of anti-social behavior.

Because I was no Hallowe’en enthusiast and had always withdrawn from it in the past, I had nothing prepared that year, and had given no particular thought to it – except that the lady I’d seen on the TV had shunted my attitude to a different place.

The children came. Badger surged forward to see them off. I felt really sad about it. Another set of children came. This time I nipped in quick. I shot through the door saying, ‘Let me get this,’ and whispered to them: ‘I’m so sorry children. We haven’t any sweeties – we have someone really, really ill indoors. I’m so sorry. Do you think you could just go very, very quietly?’
And they nodded, and tip-toed away. It wasn’t quite a lie. We did have someone really, really ill indoors. Our cat.

But I felt sad about it. What we were doing seemed not very life-affirming. I thought next year we would do things differently.

So, when Hallowe’en came round again, I got ready. I made bags of mixed sweeties, and in each bag I put some stickers saying ‘God loves you’ and badges saying ‘Jesus loves me’. On the computer I designed and printed a small manga cartoon with characters giving a message that though the children were out to have fun, sometimes the dark and the ghosts could be frightening – and whenever were were afraid, we could pray to Jesus, because the Name of Jesus is our shelter from every evil, the most powerful thing in the world, more powerful than any kind of magic; and Jesus always hears us when we call out to Him.

And that’s what I’ve done the last two years. We left on the porch lights and put the bags out in a basket for the children to help themselves when they came round.

This year our family has children again. My daughter Grace has a young son Michael (a toddler), and her friend Donna has two daughters, a four-year-old and a two-year-old. We anticipate that as they grow up Hallowe’en might become an evening when they can call at our home and at the home of their other auntie, and find a welcome. We will float votive lights on the pond in our front garden, and light the candles on the celtic cross that hangs in our porch. We’ll make a smiley-face pumpkin lantern to stand under the Bible quotation from Philippians 4 that is carved in stone and fastened to the front wall of our house by the front door. And when these children who are part of our tribe come round, there will be no ‘trick or treat’, just a developing tradition that this is a night to go visiting in the dark, and be given some candy and a loving welcome, and sing some hymns around the fire.

I guess ‘For all the saints’, and ‘Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return’, and ‘When the saints go marching in’ should be suitable.


Julie B. said...

This is one of my favorites of all your posts, Ember.

When my daughters were little we also didn't celebrate Halloween and did exactly as you have described. If we were home, the porch light was left off, curtains were closed, and we were "not in." Many years we went to our church's Harvest Festival instead, where candy and Biblical costumes abounded, and everyone had fun. When my 28 year-old Sara was three, she won the costume contest, having gone as Lazarus. I wrapped her round and round with toilet paper from head to foot and a few lengths trailed behind, and it was pretty amusing. When she was called up on the stage for her 1st place award she was shy and started crying, and that's a vivid memory I have - Sara as Lazarus, trailing toilet paper and crying as everyone chuckled and applauded. :)

Anyway, now I'm a grandma, and my adult daughters with children take their children trick-or-treating, and I have enjoyed walking around with them each year. One year Clara was Pippi Longstocking, one year Eleanor was a honeybee, another year Cullen was a carpenter. :) We have given out candy in recent years, but what has been missing has been the intentional love and messages you wrote about.

Thank you for sharing everything here - you've given me some ideas to help make our home a "light" on a traditionally darkish night.

As usual, I learn from you and am blessed.

Ember said...


Hi Julie! x

Gerry Snape said...

Well growing up in Ireland there only was Halloween and we little christians dressed up with the others and lit our bonfires and knocked on doors with the rest of the gang. It was only when I came to England and the church spoke of All Hallow's evening and happy partys were held etc. that I turned my back on it and stopped my children from having the fun that I had had! Now with my Grand children I once again carve the pumpkins [and what child wants a happy faced pumpkin!] duck for apples and they wear their halloween clothes. I make it clear that the evening is in celebration of all the saints, and tell them, that means us. Now the thing that puzzled me for years over in England was that they celebrate 5th Nov. by putting an effigy of a man on a bonfire to burn, And I thought...how can that be any better for those children to think that it's o.k. for a catholic to be burnt!!!Funny old world!

Ganeida said...

Ember: Halloween has never really been celebrated out here until the past few years & it seems to be the teens who are getting into it. Last year they trashed our neighbour's yard; Star & I saw it when we got home & cleaned it up for her so I don't know if she even knew it had been done. Friends had their littlies terrorised & there were eggs & bricks thrown at houses out their way. I have threatened to bail our next lot of unwanted visitors up & give them a lecture on Celtic history [after all I don't get lots of opportunities to pontificate on my favourite subject!] & Dearest has said we need to organise to have some kiddie tracts to hand out but we don't get lots of visitors. We are sort of out of the way & none of our living area is on the street side so our house is dark & uninviting normally.

Apart from anything else I do think it is an invasion of privacy but not having grown up with it I just don't get anything about this. Why are parents letting young kiddies wander about unsupervised late at night? [seen & witnessed last year on our way home from choir] Why the focus on the ghoulish?

I admit seeing all the nightmarish stuff makes me physically sick. I am super sensitive to anything of horror [no horror movies for me! lol] so this is a really difficult time of the year for me if there is a lot of supernatural activity taking place ~ & that pings me of because it is generally a lovely time of year & my birthday falls plop in the middle of all the fuss. *sigh* We can't even turn it into a harvest festival & I suspect out here it is just another way for the retailers to make a quick buck [a 2nd reason to veto it in my book].

I have been fascinated by how you view this but just thinking about Halloween has me breaking out in a cold sweat & my gorge rising up. Perhaps because I have absolutely no positive associations with it? *sigh* Seems I will have to decide on a positive course of action as it becomes more mainstream each year. How about an island just for one? ;D

Ember said...

Hi Gerry! Funny old world indeed!!

Hi Ganeida - you will be relieved to know that's my last post on Hallowe'en - no more! :0)

Tony Collins said...

Speaking as the Badger in the post above, I found the experience of welcoming small children, admiring costumes etc very rewarding. Kids usually come with their parents or other adults, and that's ok.

I did get very sick of having my house pelted with eggs and flour: rampant teens are rarely a blessing.

There is quite a strong bonfire tradition on the south coast of England, with torchlight processions and costumes. One nearby town still burns an effigy of the Pope. In Hastings we have moved on a bit and in recent years have burned effigies of Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, and not to leave our American cousins out of it, George W as well. Probably it will be David or Barack this year. Until you have been burned in effigy you just haven't made it.

Ember said...

Oh! Being burned to death as a form of *tribute*! Now, why didn't I think of that?
x thanks Badger

Persuaded said...

You know, I don't think I've ever found another believer who feels as I do about Halloween.... but now I have♥

Ember said...

Hi Persuaded!


Buzzfloyd said...

Did my earlier comment not come through? :-\

Responding to something Gerry said about Bonfire Night:
I think, for most people who aren't Catholics, they aren't thinking about religious affiliation at all on Bonfire Night; and for those who are remembering 1605, these days it's more about burning an effigy that represents anti-democratism and terrorism, rather than Catholicism. (Not to say that it hasn't been clearly about Catholicism in the past.)

There is still a discussion to be had about whether or not it is still offensive, but if you wonder why ordinary people could do something so hateful towards Catholics, I think it's because they aren't thinking about Catholics when they do it, or even about it being a figure of an actual man - rather, an anthropomorphic personification of an idea!

Ember said...

Sorry Buzz - yes it did. Can't remember what went awry there - probably my fault!
Thanks for this, anyway x

Linda said...

I was interested to read Ganeida's comment. This year being on facebook I came across similar views from other Aussie's our age. I was a little surprised. I do feel like Ganeida that I have a low tolerance to anything scarey.

The Aussie's normal everyday ones where actually quite upset, even more than Ganeida perhaps. There were lots of things in our mainstream grocery shops. I loved it, I even asked my son to buy me some of the inexpensive things from Aldi for my Christmas present. However I would have preferred the pumpkins to the spiders, but they were sold out.

I think because my husband went to America a couple of times in October, and Canada too, I have a much more positive view. He brought back a large bag of candy that was fun with corn shaped lollies and some other normal candy from Walgreens that is nicer than what we can buy here, more wholesome taste. My daughter was only four and it was a happy time. I saw the photos of the pumpkins and corn stalks on people's entries of their houses. Knew nothing about it before, it was 2000. So when my son shows (he is 22) an interest in getting a large pumpkin from Coles and it then comes up in the compost and he is growing them I am all excited. Especially since my Dad told stories of giant pumpkins when he was a boy with piglets inside of them, not that the halloween pumpkins are that big. Coles had ones in the shops that you don't usually see. Even for Christmas now then have inexpensive dress ups, like the most gorgeous plum pudding for a toddler. It is new to Australia, but I adored the costumes and wished I had a toddler to dress. I expect though other middle aged ladies just thought the same thing that they are trying to make money. My husband was working in a corporation in 2000 so I like corporations, it was what brought this excitement. We live now though in an isolated place, not sure how it compares to Ganeida's island. The kids here are quite safe running around and know who they are bumping into in the night. It has been very fun, and I wished I was more prepared with the lollies. I was sad about that.

Ember said...