On Thursday night just before it begins to get dark the doorbell will ring. You will open your door to zombie hunters, Navy seals, stealthy ninjas, Barbie, Batman, Elmo, Skylanders, Buzz Lightyear, Super Mario Brothers, Lil’ Mermaids, Alices from Wonderland, three-foot high aliens dressed in Reynolds Wrap, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles—and aren’t we glad they are back! They will threaten you and demand gifts. You will wonder, “Whatever happened to clowns?”
These monsters and cowgirls will raise several questions: What are we teaching our children? Doesn’t “trick or treat” sound like extortion? Who decided this was a good idea? Do thinking mothers buy their daughters a Xena the Warrior Princess costume?
For most of us, there comes a day when Halloween seems less fun than Arbor Day. At a certain age toilet papering your teacher’s yard no longer has much allure. For at least four years soaping windows has seemed infantile to me. I know it was the right decision, but I look back with mixed emotions on the Halloween when as a seventh grader I refused to go with the gang to throw slices of bologna on the windshields of moving cars.
Some of us do not have good memories of Halloween costumes. I had to go as a baseball player during my little league years, because I already had the uniform. During a few politically incorrect years I went as a bum, because my mother felt that I already had that uniform, too. Some of my friends cut holes in sheets and wore them, but my mother vetoed this—not because it was wildly inappropriate for a white child in Mississippi in the 1960s, but because she was afraid I would not see cars driven by people who aim for ghosts.
One of the cruel ironies of life is that when we are old enough to buy as much candy as we want it no longer tastes as good. When my grown children last came home with Nerds, Airheads, Snickers, Skittles, Twizzlers, Bubble Yum, Butterfingers, Sweet Tarts, Smarties, Dum Dums, and Pixie sticks (nobody makes popcorn balls anymore), I found that after a bag or so I have had enough. Condolences to the health conscious adults who risk unpopularity by giving out raisins, apples, or toothbrushes. You are not going to win.
Some of us will be tempted to skip it all, turn out the lights, and hide in the back room. Others will respond to the cries of “Trick or treat” with a firm “Trick.” Preschoolers will not have a clue what to do next.
Part of the problem for me is that I am not particularly afraid of black cats, creaking doors, vampires, werewolves, the undead, paranormal activity, Texas chainsaws, or Hannibal.
Different American horror stories haunt me. I find pollen, losing my edge, and accepting mediocrity spooky. If someone comes to my door dressed up as the ghost of college bills, I will be terrified.
We are probably stuck with bats and goblins. In a wonderful, ironic twist, the British newspaper Independent on Sunday printed a bitter complaint from pagans that Halloween was becoming too commercialized and trivialized.
We would do well to remember what the holiday used to be. For over a thousand years, November 1 has been marked on Christian calendars as All Saints’ Day or All Hallows’ Day—a day to remember the saints. The eve of this important day, All Hallows’ Eve, has become Halloween.
While millions of children dress up in costumes to pretend to be someone else, we can do some imagining of our own. Most of us have given up our dreams of being a ballerina or a football star, so what do we want to be now?
William Stringfellow describes saints as “those men and women who relish the event of life as a gift and who realize that the only way to honor such a gift is to give it away.”
While you eat stolen Gobstoppers, think about Noah’s audacity, Abraham’s faith, Ruth’s loyalty, David’s nerve, Peter’s daring, Zacchaeus’ generosity, and Paul’s fearlessness. While you are chewing on Laffy Taffy, remember Saint Francis’ boldness, Martin Luther’s mettle, Lottie Moon’s faithfulness, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s commitment, Rosa Park’s defiance, and Oscar Romero’s dedication. While you are munching on someone else’s Milky Way, consider being as enthusiastic as your Sunday school teacher, as caring as a children’s Sunday school teacher, as courageous as a prophetic pastor, as joyful as a choir member, as prayerful as a faithful deacon, and as compassionate as a Meals on Wheels volunteer.
Happy Halloween to all the saints.