Monday, October 31, 2011

What's Behind the Mask?

 by Niki Turner

We didn't "do" Halloween for years. It wasn't really considered an acceptable practice in our non-denominational denomination. We either ignored the holiday altogether (we lived too far out of town to have any trick-or-treaters anyway) or we substituted "harvest parties" instead, so our kids didn't feel like they were missing out on all the fun.

Harvest party costumes for my daughter and oldest son a LONG time ago.

I've since learned that almost all of the holidays we celebrate are based in paganism and glorify something besides Christ. Christmas was originally a festival for the Roman god Saturnalia. Easter was a spring fertility feast celebrated by the Greeks and Romans ... hence the bunnies and eggs. Halloween, it seems, is one of the only pagan holidays the early church didn't find a way to infiltrate and "paper over" with Christian meaning and symbolism. I wish they had adopted Halloween, too, because I missed it.

It wasn't the fake skeletons and plastic vampire teeth or the crazy decorations I missed. I didn't even miss the candy – I missed that one night a year to put on a costume and step into character. One day in which it was perfectly acceptable to become someone, or something, other than myself. A day to express those bits and pieces of my personality that I kept locked away from public view for fear of rejection or humiliation.

My "Jonah in the whale" Bible-theme costume.
Is that part of the appeal of Halloween to a modern people who no longer put stock in scaring away goblins and evil spirits with carved pumpkins? A populace who barely believes in the reality of the spiritual realm at all? Is it the longing to be understood and the desire to be accepted – no matter how ugly or gruesome we think we are – that makes an otherwise bizarre holiday so appealing to so many?

Think about it, only on Halloween are we praised, applauded – even awarded prizes – for being the most extreme, outlandish, or ridiculous person at the party. (Unless you're Johnny Depp, and have made a wildly successful career out of being extreme, outlandish, and  ridiculous.)

This year, whether you "do" Halloween or not, I challenge you to take a second and consider the underlying reason the people you see chose that particular costume.
  • Does the zombie (a costume choice I have never understood) feel dead on the inside? 
  • Does the little Harry Potter or Hermione hunger for the supernatural power of God? 
  • Does the werewolf feel helpless to control his anger and rage? 
  • Is the pint-size princess (or the grown woman in the "sexy" get-up) desperate to be told she's beautiful and loved? 
  • Do the Green Lanterns and Captain Americas long to "go about doing good," perhaps?
  • And when the 47th version of a vampire appears at your door, remember, everyone wants to immortal.
Maybe, just maybe, as the candy changes hands or the party winds down, we'll see beyond the masks to the hungry souls on the inside and be able to give them what they really need ... not a treat, nor a trick, but the truth.

Just a thought.

Mother of four and grandmother of one, Niki Turner is an only child, wife of a former pastor, and writer of fiction, blog posts, Facebook status updates, a tweet here and there, and lots of long grocery lists. She also writes, copyedits, and proofreads for the local newspaper. Her first completed manuscript was a finalist in the Touched by Love contest.  




  1. Excellent post! Halloween is secretly the most challenging holiday on the calendar for Christians, isn't it?

    I didn't let my children trick or treat for many years, but I allowed them to dress up and hand out candy. I was torn. It's just way too much fun dressing up, but I didn't/don't feel comfortable with the 'dark side'. You completely nailed this one, Niki!

    It's a tough choice. Schools celebrate it so if your child goes to public school, even keeping them home on party/costume day isn't likely going to 'shield' them and frankly nothing is cuter than costume day in the primary school anyway.

    My least favorite part? Sexy costumes for young girls.

    My favorite part? seeing adults dressed in costume driving to work in the morning.

    If stemming the presence of evil in the world is as easy as refusing to celebrate Halloween, well, wouldn't that be nice?

  2. Fantastic post, Niki--

    We've changed a bit over Halloween over the years. When our daughter was younger, we had a family game night hiding out in the basement--all the lights off. Later, we loosened up a little, and handed out a nice tract with some really good candy. Now we live far enough out in the country that it's not an issue.

    But I LOVE the bit about what's hiding behind the mask. That's a great way to view people who cross our path today--and every other day for that matter.

    BTW, I remember in high school dressing up as a giant Rubic's cube. I wonder what that says about me...

  3. I'm going to psychoanalyze all the costume I see today.

    My final verdict on Halloween is that I don't like it because at the end of the day it seems to be a celebration of fear and death. Fear definitely is not of God and death came with the curse. So I'm not digging Halloween.

    That said, my oldest daughter, who is also my most spiritual child, went on a big rant the other day about how she missed out on Halloween on these years. My husband was mystified, but this is also my child who is into drama, theatrics, and costumes, so it made sense to me that she missed that element.

    I did however make a point to give her costume opportunities whether "All Saints Day," or a party at a different time.

    We'll be at the "Holy Ghost Wiener Roast" tonight as we've been since my kids were little. It's a huge blowout harvest party at a working ranch. For years they discouraged costumes, but they've finally given in. My youngest son is going as King Peter from the Chronicles of Narnia.

  4. I always love your posts, Niki! I do let my kids trick or treat. Son is Captain America, daughter wanted to be Yoshi, the dinosaur from Mario Bros. And they absolutely will play in their constumes at other times.

    I mostly view Halloween from a totally secular view. By which i mean that I don't think of it as a spiritual issue. We don't do the haunted houses or celebrate t he occult. We do let the kids get a costume and go begging for candy.

  5. Deb, I think that's my favorite part, too... going into stores and businesses around town and seeing who dressed up and as what!

    And yes, it IS a challenging holiday. I've found myself on the receiving end of criticism and judgment from Christians AND from non-believers whether we do or don't do Halloween stuff.

  6. Thanks, Barb!

    Hahaha! When we first moved into town (we're out in the country again now) we hid out in the basement, too! And we did the tracts and candy, and carved our pumpkins with crosses and Jesus stuff. I guess I won't know until we get to heaven whether any of those seeds took root.

    A Rubik's cube, huh? Awesome! I would say that meant you felt very complex and possibly like people didn't quite "get" you. How's my psychoanalysis?

  7. Dina, I completely understand where your daughter is coming from! I'm the one who pushes for some kind of costume contest at fall church events every year!
    The Jonah costume was actually "whale vomit." The kids had to guess what I was, specifically. It was a fun one.
    We are fortunate to live in a community that encourages family friendly activities. Our rec district does a very mild celebration downtown with the local businesses called Pumpkins Eats & Treats where the kids can dress up and go without the scary parts.

  8. Aw, thanks, Lisa!
    Halloween really has become secularized for the most part. A lot like Christmas, unfortunately, but that's a whole other subject!
    Have fun with your kiddos! That's what's most important. My parents were huge Halloween fans, hosting a party every year for my entire class. They really went all out, too. It provided some amazing memories. And I'll never forget the year my dad took me trick or treating... dressed in a full body gorilla suit. He would hide and jump out when people answered the door.

  9. Cute costumes, Niki! I love the "whale vomit". Lol. If I psycho-analyzed you, I'd say you are extremely innovative, creative, and you have a great sense of humor. Oh, and you're willing to take risks.

    I don't decorate or do pumpkins, but I do give out candy, and I did take my son trick-or-treating when he was little. I made lots of costumes, too. His favorite was a cardinal.

  10. We let the girls do Hallowe'en just as we'd done it when we were young. But then we moved to our present location and not only does the school encourage the kids and staff to dress up, but they invite the community and the kids parade around the gymnasium in the afternoon. The kids are expected to follow the regular curriculum during the morning and party all afternoon.

    I was fine with that until JJ was in Grade 1. But that year, JJ had nightmares for a week after from some of the gruesome costumes. There's less than 200 students in the school and it goes from K-12. Some of those middle years and teens can get pretty gory. He shuddered as he told me some of the 'people' he passed in the hall or ran into in the bathroom that day.

    So the next year, I sent a note warning that I would be pulling my kids out of school that Hallowe'en and told the bus driver not to bother showing up. When the school secretary phoned to find out why the kids weren't in school, I relayed what I'd written in the notes to their teachers:

    "Making my child sit beside a zombie with an axe in his head and blood dripping down his face is not conducive to learning the basics of arithmetic."

    The school never bothered us again and the kids willingly stayed home until Jessie's grad year when she was president of the student body and was expected to attend. The boys started going again on their own accord.

    Last year Nick used duct tape on a big box and himself and went as a robot. They congratulated him on his creativity. JJ didn't dress up.

    This year, Nick asked me to buy him a new blazer to go with a yachtsman's hat he picked up during the summer. Since he's in Grade 11 and will graduate next year, he should have a suit jacket so I bought him one at a 75% discount. He looks really good in it and his hat.

    Again, JJ didn't dress up.

    They both went with what they're comfortable with. And as usual, they've decided not to go out tonight.

    And that's the whole idea, isn't it... allowing them to choose who they want to be on this crazy day when evil doesn't need to skulk in dark alleys, but glorifies in its power with a mellow world watching.

  11. My brother and I were Olympic-grade trick-or-treaters when I was growing up.

    My dad still shudders when I tell him (years later of course) how far we went in search of candy and, probably more important, in search of the best/most elaborate/scariest decor.

    Don't get me wrong. I thoroughly understand not wanting to glorify death or evil or paganism. I just enjoyed playing dress up and staying out late and getting free candy. :D

    Of course, the way things are these days, there's no way I would EVER let a child run around unsupervised the way we did. ;)

  12. Thanks, Suzie! Wow. How much do I owe you for that??? LOL.

    My mom was a champion costume maker. In 4th grade I wanted to be Olivia Newton-John in Grease (after her transformation to bad girl, of course). So my mom made me some stretchy satin pants and curled my hair with rag curlers.

  13. Anita, I chuckled at your note to the school. SO true. I get frustrated with the attendance requirements and then they waste whole days on nonsense. *sigh* When I was little we had costume stuff in the afternoon, right before school got out, and we weren't allowed to wear our costumes all day. Lots of things have changed.

    P.S. Sounds like your kiddos have some awesome imaginations, like their momma!

  14. DeAnna, I think that's the same motivation for most kids, even nowadays... playing dress-up in public and getting bagfuls of free candy for the asking.
    In fact, I know some adults who would still like to do that!

  15. I just remembered I got a free Reese's PB cup at the grocery store today...

    Loving all the costume talk.

    When I was a kid, you had to be careful not to go trick-or-treating past the socially accepted age (10 or 11?) or you were a 'baby'. I was surprised years later, (I was an old married woman in my twenties) when the teens kept coming year after year. Their costume was no costume, just carry a pillow case for collecting.

  16. We were at the taxidermy where my oldest son works tonight. They do a huge outdoor "haunted house" every year and hand out 400-500 treat bags. I was surprised by the number of king-size pillowcases carried by very LARGE trick or treaters!


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