Let’s talk about a rather controversial topic: trick-or-treating. I understand from the get-go that not everyone is going to agree with me – but isn’t that a part of the messy middle? If we only stick to talking about “safe” things, we are going to be left with the banality of the weather and traffic; I want more than that and I believe we are capable of engaging hard subjects.

When I was a kid Halloween was a holiday filled with lots of discussions about costumes, candy, parties, and fun. Buying and carving pumpkins – rejoicing over faces that turned out and groaning overs that didn’t come to life in the way envisioned. Hoping that it wouldn’t be so cold you’d have to wear a winter coat over your costume! It was the one night a year the neighborhood came alive with people. In more recent years Halloween and trick-or-treating got a bad rap between the questions of safety for kids (can we really trust strangers to hand out candy?) and religious aspects.

Ironically in Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath they looked at the question of what makes some messages stick and used the example of Halloween candy. I would imagine that you have heard about razor blades in candy or drug injected candy being handed out. I had too. After looking into every incident reported, the Heath brothers were able to determine that there has never been ONE incident of Halloween candy that was tainted in ANY way. Not one.

Yet we have all heard of the accusations and assume because they are so prevalent they must in some way be based on reality. Who wants to be the jerk who is against children’s’ safety, so Trick-or-treating got moved inside and renamed.

I have mixed feeling about the “Fall Festivals” that have become the norm at many churches and other places of gathering. Part of me applauds the church looking for ways to be a haven and being willing to open their doors instead of close them. But another part is kind of turned off by the withdrawal and segregation. It’s the ONE night a year in America where we are socially sanctioned to wander around our neighborhoods, knock on each other’s doors and greet one another. The ONE night. And what have we done, we have said that safety is more important than engagement (I told you, you might not agree).

In China so much of life happens out on the streets. Things are sold, games are played, meals are eaten, children are taken for walks, people hang out. Street life is active. One of the most consistent comments Chinese make when they are in the US is how dead our streets are, how very little life happens on them. The garage door goes up, we drive in, and down the door goes. Where are all of the people? Where is the action? Too much of it happens inside. How lonely and boring life can be in the US. I can’t disagree.

Several years ago I happened to be in the US for Halloween and was able to go trick-or-treating with my sister and her girls. We had a blast! The two of us were the only adults dressed up, but you know what, we probably had more fun than most. Who doesn’t love a big yellow crayon and static cling? As we went door-to-door in her neighborhood we interacted with her neighbors, both known and new to her. She was able to point out where she lived and to introduce herself and their family. It’d hard not to like a woman who has laundry pinned on her.  When we returned home the girls got to participate in the age old tradition of candy sorting, counting, rejoicing and negotiating. We recalled stories from this house, or that dog, or those decorations while munching on candy.

There are so many ways that American life is very isolated and safe and lived behind walls; but not on this night. On this night may neighbors not be afraid of one another; may strangers connect over costumes and candy that may lead to more significant connecting.

May this be the year that we take back the streets!

Categories: China, Community, Family, Holiday



Leave A Comment

  1. Christie October 27, 2012 at 7:58 pm - Reply

    Thought provoking! I split my growing up between Australia (country of birth) and the USA (lived there multiple times). Halloween is not prevalent in Oz at all so my parents reaction to Halloween was hesitant. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that it was one of fear but we were definitely the family with all the lights out and sat in the back room of the house watching a movie hoping no one would ring our bell. This wasn’t out of fear of poisoned candy but I think rather one of my mum in particular not wanting to gauge in a holiday with this kind of a past.

    Well, hubby, 3 kids & I moved back to the USA a couple of weeks ago from Australia (and prior to that Beijing). I’ve never had kids in the US so I haven’t had to “deal with” halloween. My hubby is American and pro halloween (he grew up with it). I’m hesitant (based on my background) but willing to research. Thanks for a challenging read and giving me something to think about.

    P.S. Not sure but I think we may have met through Lisa Z once upon a time.

    • Avatar photo
      Amy October 27, 2012 at 8:37 pm - Reply

      Christie~ yes, I remember Lisa Z speaking very fondly of you and of meeting once upon a time. So nice to have you pop in and chat! Though parts of Halloween have become so ridiculously commercialized, the actual event of T-or-T-ing is fun … welcome to the US (at least for a bit!).

  2. Marty October 28, 2012 at 8:38 pm - Reply

    I really enjoyed reading your post. I struggle with all the various Christian “alternatives” that the church has come up with…not just for Halloween but things like a christian version of twitter or youtube. It just seems to much being like the world only ‘righteous’….does that even make sense? Sorry, for rambling :-) My husband and I have been on both sides of the issue and finally decided we wanted to be out in the community, using it as an opportunity to get int he streets and visit with people. Plus we wanted our children to know that there is not ever a day that does not belong to God and as His children we will walk boldly proclaiming that Christ is King.

    • Avatar photo
      Amy October 28, 2012 at 9:13 pm - Reply

      It does make sense and you’re not rambling! My parents had a similar philosophy and for it. Thanks for chiming in :)

  3. Rona October 29, 2012 at 6:40 am - Reply

    I’m stopping by today from Jumping Tandem Sunday.
    We celebrate Halloween before I was baptized and after. It’s fun to see the kids and adults in their costumes. And the Harvest Festivals at our former church were great fun. Thank you for sharing your views.
    I hope you and yours has a blessed week!

    • Avatar photo
      Amy October 29, 2012 at 7:02 am - Reply

      Welcome! and you too :)

  4. Larissa October 29, 2012 at 8:06 am - Reply

    For us, we just don’t participate, but it has nothing to do with the safety of candy and whatnot. The origins of Halloween are based in misdirected spirituality, prevention of ancestral hauntings, and fear. We’re not interested in glossing over that in the name of dressing up (our kids do that all the time on their own) and getting candy (which we wouldn’t allow them to eat much of anyway). I’m also not interested in exposing our kids to the kinds of scary things that people do “in fun”.

    I like your statement that we shouldn’t just accept a Christianized sterilized version of things at the loss of community. I just wouldn’t assume that everyone is going to celebrate one way or another. We are involved in community in other ways and believe we should be purposeful with how we interact with those around us, holiday or no.

  5. Beth October 29, 2012 at 8:08 am - Reply

    I hadn’t really realized how different Chinese culture is compared with American. But I do agree that Halloween’s a great opportunity to connect with our neighbors and others in our community, here in America and elsewhere. I don’t disagree with a thing you assert, Amy. I think it’s all very well-said and necessary for us to consider. Thanks for bringing it up and going in a controversial direction! By the way, do they trick or treat in China? And if so, what are you going to go as this year? ;)

    • Avatar photo
      Amy October 30, 2012 at 6:56 am - Reply

      Hi Beth, overall they do not trick or treat … but as with other “western” holidays, the Chinese way of celebrating is to turn it into “date night” — so basically we have about seven Valentines Days a year :). Some foreign kids are going to t-or-t so I’ll greet them in costume and hand out candy :)

  6. Mark Allman October 30, 2012 at 5:08 am - Reply

    We have been having a conversation over at my friend Kari’s blog about Halloween. I shared one of your comments and a link back her over there. http://www.struggletovictory.com/how-to-participate-at-halloween-and-not-lose-your-witness/#idc-container

    I do not have any trouble with celebrating Halloween as I have never tied it to evil of any sort nor have my children. We have enjoyed the traditions we have built up around the holiday. I also do not blame anyone for not participating. As I mentioned in Kari’s blog we do traditional things at other holidays that have nothing to do with the real meanings of those either. Occasions as a family we can do worthwhile things.

    I really think the meaning of Halloween has evolved as well. I think if you asked people what they thought the definition of Halloween was you would get pretty tame thoughts.

    • Avatar photo
      Amy October 30, 2012 at 6:55 am - Reply

      Mark, thanks for pointing me over to Kari’s blog … I’ve popped over and my comment is awaiting moderation. And I agree with your take on the meaning having changed. Thanks for the thoughtful ways you add to the conversation!

Related Posts