On negotiating Halloween

A quick response to a remarkable number of queries on my various social media feeds: Yes, actually I have noticed that global injustice is a bigger issue than Halloween. They pay me to examine PhDs in Christian ethics, you know; that is the sort of judgement I can manage fairly easily without your tweeted advice. To be honest, it’s the sort of judgement my pre-teen daughters can manage fairly easily without your tweeted advice.

Before you tweeted your advice, did you ever stop to think that the question might not be quite that simple?

Because there is a difference that you seem to have missed. I have checked very carefully, and no-one has emailed me to say that – or sent me letters home from school to say that – or just assumed that I am happy that – my children should be required to take part in a celebration of global injustice in order to continue to engage in their normal social life/access the after-school childcare we pay so heavily for/(in the case of school) be present in places I am under a legal requirement to make sure they are present in. But Halloween? Yes. Unless my three girls disengage from their communities, and even illegally stay off school, they are going to have to celebrate Halloween.

And, no, I am not bothered about my kids wearing scary costumes – or only bothered that they apparently need four different ones each, and time and inventiveness won’t stretch that far, even if these days money could. And whilst I happen to detest the tradition of ‘trick or treating’ with a passion, I’m not going to denounce it as unChristian.

But I’d rather my children did not play with ouija boards – in part because I did, as a child, and I know something of what that experience can be like. I’d rather they did not learn to be fascinated with the darker sides of human experience. I’d rather they never felt the strange attractiveness of the truly evil. I am confident that they whenever they see poverty and injustice they recognise it as an obscenity to be prayed and worked against; I am less confident, because they have seen it less, and because we have talked about it far less, that they are able to make the same judgement around the edges of necromancy.

So, strictly as a parent, some of the practices associated with Halloween worry me more than global injustice. Not because they are worse, but – precisely because they are not worse – because they can be presented as normal in ways beguiling to children (and adults) – in ways that might just be beguiling to my children.

So, why don’t I like Halloween?

I know that each year we will have more ethical battles here as a family than anywhere else – perhaps than everywhere else put together. Our girls are, presently, happy to be in church; they presently share our passion for justice; they believe in the importance of prayer and even of evangelism – but when one daughter looks at me with the doe-eyes she is so good at and says ‘everyone else in the whole school will…’ (as happened about ten minutes ago. For the third time today.) there is a battle I desperately don’t want to fight, but have to negotiate, right in front of me, a battle with my own daughter, which if I win, she will lose…

…and that is why I don’t like Halloween.

When my daughter says, ‘can I not go to after-school club, because it is going to be a Halloween party,’ and I want to respect her concern but improve her judgement and rebuke her for trying to find an argument to get away from the after-school club she feels she is too old for at the same moment that I am admiring her ingenuity in trying to find anĀ argument to get away from the after-school club she feels she is too old for – and when, through it all, I know that I have to be lecturing, and Heather has to be providing a critical health service, and so that the after-school club is actually the only option for her, which is why we are paying through both our noses for it – I don’t know what to say to her…

…and that is why I don’t like Halloween.

When my eldest daughter, whose spirituality and Christian commitment I probably trust more than my own, is invited to a Halloween party each year because her best friend happens to have a birthday near Oct. 31st, and when each year I am more aware of the possibility of innocent dark dress-up becoming equally innocent playing with something that is nonetheless truly dangerous, I don’t know how to frame the conversation that says, ‘of course you must go to the party – but be careful while you’re there’ in a way that gives me confidence, because although I trust her deeply, she’s still my little girl, and although I’m conscious that I should trust her more, it’s hard not to feel you have a duty to protect, and so you can so easily end up souring an inevitably-fragile relationship with a child who is fast-becoming an adult at the point you try and fail to say something important in a way that she can hear…

…and that is why I don’t like Halloween.

And if you think it is as simple as your tweeted comments suggest, then I am sorry, but I think you just don’t have the first idea of what you are talking about.


  1. Lindsay
    Oct 31, 2013

    Thanks Jody, so good to hear articulated all the unease I experience I feel over Halloween – not that it’s dreadful or evil in and of itself but that under the guise of dressing up parties, something far less innocent slips in with just enough sugar coating that no-one notices the potential bitter aftertaste…

  2. Craig Gardiner
    Oct 31, 2013

    Thank you so much for this. My kids are a few years younger but I can already see this on the horizon especially as one had a birthday yesterday . Thankfully its half term here this week so no after school difficulties and also thankfully mum and kids have been away in Largs forthe week with grandparents so everyone is happily distracted but none of this will last and I fear for how we too will negotiate all this in years to come.

  3. Nigel Coles
    Oct 31, 2013

    Many thanks. To quote my wife, Maggie: at last someone with some common-sense!

  4. Harvey Mayne
    Nov 4, 2013

    Steve, one question, which is genuine and I hope does not come across as know-it-all – do you have the same concerns about your children when they ask to go to any party? Because I am sure that there are similar risks at any time of year of them being influenced by a dark side. I’m not a parent, so cannot begin to guess how you and other parents deal with maintaining the tension between experience and protection.

    • steve
      Nov 7, 2013

      Hi Harvey, thanks for stopping by. The answer is no, because the temptations of Halloween parties are so unusual and specific. This is what gets me about Halloween in contemporary culture: there are things we want generally to warn our children about, but suddenly there is a week where a whole different world rears its head and threatens them.

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