Notes on Halloween

1. I don’t like Halloween. When we moved to Germany, I was looking forward to spending a couple years without interference from the least export-worthy American holiday celebration I can imagine.

2. Since I was last here, Halloween has been exported to Germany. It’s become especially popular as an occasion for teenage parties, but trick-or-treating has become more vigorous in some places than in some American neighborhoods we’ve lived in. Since Christmas items appear in the grocery stores here in mid-September, this puts commemorations of the Nativity and Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights on the same or neighboring aisles for a month or more.

3. A neighbor child was shocked that our children like Halloween. Maybe dressing up as police officers or cowboys would be OK, he said, but monsters and devils were just plain devilish. The neighbor child resolved not to play with our children again if they dressed up like monsters. (The same child spent a day home from school last week for a prank fire alarm–requiring not just pulling a lever, but also breaking the glass plate in front of it–and once plugged our sink with a combination of paper and clay that required disassembling all the pipes from the U-bend back to the wall, so we take the threat with a measure of equanimity.)

4. The young women in the ward wanted to throw a Halloween party. In the U.S., we’ve had time to work out standards of taste for celebrating Halloween at church. Cute animal costumes and apple bobbing are in, imitations of gross deformity is out, etc. What Germans have imported from the U.S. Halloween celebration, however, is an opportunity to indulge in the macabre. Thus the decorations featured animatronic amputated limbs (specially imported from the U.S.) and other notable items that no right-thinking person of good taste and common sense would approve of, but which, when you get right down to it, are kinda cool. (Our children came dressed as two cats, a knight, and a vampire. The neighbor child was not invited.)

5. As much as it pains me to say it, the Halloween party was a great success. Lots of kids and teenagers came who don’t always make it on Sundays. Another advantage is that today is All Saints Day, a public holiday, so keeping the kids out late wasn’t a problem. I told everyone who would listen that they really should hold a Halloween party again next year. The world of imported and assimilated European-American pagan-Christian holidays is an odd one, but we might as well use it to our advantage.

31 comments for “Notes on Halloween

  1. Dan
    November 1, 2007 at 12:21 pm

    We were “not home” yesterday. Instead of staying at home (we live on the third floor of a two-family home), where we’d have to walk down the stairs every time someone wanted candy, we decided to walk around Manhattan with our daughter. We ended up at the Scholastic Store in SOHO where they had a small party going on. It was a better experience, I thought, than being at home. When we did eventually get home we found that one of our neighbors had a sign on their door saying “No Candy”. We also saw that someone had thrown an egg at them. Seriously, how childish!

    I will do all in my power to ensure that my daughter (and any future children of mine) don’t participate in this stupid “celebration” of Hallow’s Eve.

  2. November 1, 2007 at 12:48 pm

    Not my favorite holiday, either, although I don’t seriously mind it when it doesn’t get too gross, too risque, or too violent — which generally leaves me to enjoy it from, say, 5:00 to 5:30?

    I haven’t had trick-or-treaters since moving to Salt Lake’s Avenues, and wasn’t ready for them last night when they suddenly started showing up. The first one was a cute and very tiny elephant escorted by his father, who got the box of Mrs. Cavanaugh’s chocolates that my visiting teacher had brought me earlier this week. Spying other kids on the sidewalks, I hastily closed my door and turned off all the lights. No proofreading on my ms. last night!

  3. Ugly Mahana
    November 1, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    Last night I left my apartment to go visit a friend w/three kids and to take my first trick-or-treating. As we walked from house to house, I commented thus: “Halloween gets a bad rap. Anything that encourages neighbors to get out and see each other can’t be all bad.”

  4. November 1, 2007 at 1:58 pm

    Why don’t you like Halloween, Jonathan? Halloween is the only pagan holiday we’ve got in this country; let us enjoy what little of the Old World we have. Also, Ugly Mahana has it right; Halloween as celebrated in the U.S. is a genuinely civic holiday, and there’s no way that on balance can be a bad thing.

    Our ward party last night rocked, by the way. Kids got a lot of candy, the teenagers had a lot of mildly heterodox fun, and the adults made fools of themselves. (One of members of our Young Women’s Presidency came dressed as Antonio Banderas. She looked good, too.)

  5. Kevin Barney
    November 1, 2007 at 2:27 pm

    I love Halloween–mainly the passing out candy part. But it seems to be dying a slow death. We don’t get as many kids as we used to, which is a shame. It’s been years since we cracked the 50 mark. Still, I love seeing the little kids all dressed up, their parents reminding them to say “thank you.” (I even came home early from work so I could see the littlest kids, who come around late in the afternoon.)

  6. Marjorie Conder
    November 1, 2007 at 2:31 pm

    Put me down for huge amounts of halloween ambivilance. When I was a kid and when my children were little, it was a much more innocent time. When it stays like that I have no trouble with it. However, in recent years it has become much more sinister and also over the top commercial. It is no longer a “kid” holiday. I especially dislike seeing adults dressed up at work, especially in so called professional settings like doctors’ offices, hospitals and in general office settings of all types. Also adults out Trick or Treating without any kids in tow, is tacky. Last night we had several adults out with babies! These were not people I had ever seen before. We get a lot of people not from our immediate area obviously driving in. I assume this is so because we are preceived as a safe area, and I’m not sure I really object to that. But on the other hand it is fun to see kids you know dressed up. Invariably these kids also remember to say, “Thank you.” So that is all to the good. Last night I also had a few wide-eyed kids who called me the “Church lady” even though I have not been Pr. Pres for a year. I remember as a kid it was always startling to see an adult out of context. These kids my have been surprised that I had a house and didn’t just live at the Church!

  7. Anita
    November 1, 2007 at 3:00 pm

    I disliked how our ward party involved a spook alley in the church, and there were cobwebs and such up around the pictures of the Savior. I don’t want my kids to have gory and scary memories of being in church, and a new convert I visit teach thought we’d turned the Lord’s house into an abode of evil spirits. Another woman I know remembers a spook alley going through the baptismal font and how she was scared to get baptized as a child because of it. Celebrating in the neighborhood is one thing, but these pagan parties seem out of place in the church.

  8. Adam Greenwood
    November 1, 2007 at 3:03 pm

    What could make the intersection of Church and pseudo-paganism/deviltry even better? The intersection of German and American culture. Thanks, Jonathan G.

  9. BBELL
    November 1, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    We had trunk or treat last night at the ward house in the parking lot. It was a blast. It was our 4th year in a row doing this activity.

    Then we took the 4 little guys around the nieghborhood. There are kids in almost every house in our area so the streets were packed with little kids. It was great. I like anything that gets kids out and excited.

    After the kids went to bed I zealously enforced the “Daddy tax” on their loot.

    We should get a new word for the anti-Halloween people out there. Like Bah-boo instead of Bah Humbug

  10. Adam Greenwood
    November 1, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    Kevin B.,
    I think part of the decline in trick or treating is the drop in the birthrate. Plus parents are more protective than they used to be, neighbors know each other less, and neighborhoods are sometimes more spread out.

  11. Ronan
    November 1, 2007 at 3:40 pm

    >After the kids went to bed I zealously enforced the “Daddy tax” on their loot.

    Bbell, that’s brilliant. I thought I was the only one who enacted Daddy Tax. I even call it that.

  12. Kevinf
    November 1, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    The annual Halloween party in our ward is probably the second biggest event of the year, bringing in lots of neighbors, non-members, and family members. We do all the usual stuff, like decorating trick or treat bags, a costume parade and contest, a cupcake walk, and all sorts of free candy from the different auxiliaries and quorums. Plus food.

    Our YM, however, love to do a spook alley, and go to great lengths to make it scary/fun. I have mixed feelings about it, but both the boys and the primary kids who go through it seem to have a blast. We avoid the chapel and anything else that would seem overtly inappropriate, and use only classrooms and hallways. This year, not being YM president, I was just a casual observer. They don’t wear masks, but instead had some masks hanging on some dodgeballs, flashing strobe lights, blasts of compressed air, scary sounds, and at one point, a glow in the dark hockey mask that gets revealed when you turn a corner in the dark. As I say, I’m conflicted between the fun elements and the macabre.

    To top it off, I had just carved my “puking pumpkin”, a jack’o’lantern with pinched eyes, wide open mouth, and the insides of the pumpkin hanging out the mouth, only to discover that one of our ward members had carved three pumpkins that featured views of the first vision, and likenesses of the Savior, and displayed them at the party.

    I don’t know which made me feel more uncomfortable. Altogether, a weird holiday all around.

  13. Jonovitch
    November 1, 2007 at 3:46 pm

    My sister-in-law in Germany asked me a couple weeks ago about pumpkins and their staying power if kept inside on a sill, rather than out on the step. I was surprised to here how much the traditions had spread over there. Of course, the holiday is widely celebrated in the UK, too, so it’s not completely our American-hegemonous fault.

    Last Saturday our ward had a great Trunk-or-treat/Oktoberfest (my wife, the ward activities/party person is native German, and she’s been itching for a good excuse to schmeiss a party with some brats). Songs, games, contests, brats, hot dogs, root beer, apple beer, candy, decorated trunks. Tons of fun and a larger turnout than I would have thought.

    Last night we hosted a Halloween party for the youth. Candy, chips/salsa, veggies, cider. They romped in the yard and watched Nightmare Before Christmas in my “home theater” downstairs. Lots of fun and a *much* larger turnout, with a greater variety of youth, than I expected from our diverse and smallish YM/YW group.

    My little boy ended up going around to everyone at the party, generously holding up his meager basket of loot up for any takers, and offering “Heeyago!” It was sad to see his basket completely emptied by the time the party ended (and I think he might have been regretting it this morning), but he was having a blast. Plus I guess that gives me incentive (read: excuse) to go pillage the discount aisles at Target.

    I love Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas — in that chronological order, please.


  14. November 1, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    I always felt vaguely terrified of the idea of trick-or-treating (a consequence of living in Highland Park in Los Angeles in the 1980s); my stepmother had to drag me out of the mall trick-or-treating event we always went to and drove me to the three houses in Eagle Rock that we could find that looked like they’d be both safe and welcoming of trick-or-treaters. As a teen I took every opportunity to trick-or-treat in all the lovely midwestern suburb type places my mom lived in. I think trick-or-treating is awesome, but it requires a lot of variables to work well: you need friendly neighbors, lots of kids under 12, safe streets, not too many cars… Anyway, I try not to be judgy when I see older teens and young adults trick-or-treating; the first year I did it I was 12, and I sympathize with those who want to keep going with it when they’re older. The costumes at work thing can be pretty difficult, as well, though I bet the bank I worked at last wouldn’t allow it. ^_^

    I hate the macabre/gory stuff, though. Fake blood and the rest really really turn me off, and I don’t think I’d be able to be quiet about a ‘spook alley’ in a Church building (though I don’t think I’d call it an invitation to the Devil to take over the joint, either.)

  15. CS Eric
    November 1, 2007 at 3:56 pm

    My wife is taking a class on Wednesday nights, so we weren’t home for the trick-or-treaters. Instead of taking the chance of disappointing kids who may have tried anyway, I spent the time doing some grocery shopping. It was 6:30 on a regular weeknight, and the store was emptier than I have ever seen it–even when I have done the midnight run for Tylenol or cough syrup. Who knew that Halloween night was a real holiday where people didn’t do their normal activities?

  16. November 1, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    I reached my anti-Halloween stance as a missionary. It really rubbed me the wrong way that missionaries were exporting a celebration of darkness. Okay, there is room for fairy princesses and elephants in the traditions, but when it overlapped Catholic all saints day it seemed to take the turn for the darker rather than the lighter costume ball side of the spectrum. You’re homesick, fine; Thanksgiving–great, let’s all be thankful; Cinqo de mayo–fine, teach the members to make tortillas, no harm in that; but why not just have a fall festival, why oh why import Halloween!

  17. BBELL
    November 1, 2007 at 4:24 pm

    hey Ronan,

    I may be a big believer in limited Federal taxes but my own household is strictly socialist. Lots of Daddy tax on October 31. There are other occassions for Daddy tax to. Like school parties or BDay parties. I may even put a “Daddy lien” on a kid where he has to pay up later from other loot that he brings home

    Also occassionally I have to enforce “brother tax” to. That is when one kid has a lot of loot and I have to “Redistribute” said loot to younger brothers.

  18. Jonovitch
    November 1, 2007 at 5:41 pm

    Pillaging update: I grabbed what seems to be 40 pounds of candy for about 10 cents. Okay, not really, but Target still had a ton of the good stuff, all at 50-percent off. Hey, I’ve got deacons to bribe! At least that’s what I tell my wife when she freaks out. (But I got her favorites, too — hey, I’ve got a wife to bribe!)


  19. November 1, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    Our stake held its annual Halloween youth dance. The bulletin stuffer announcement advised that attendees were welcome to come in modest costumes, but prohibited masks, dark costumes (we have more than a handful of goth-inclined youth in our area), and fake blood.

    That last point prompted a lot of questions…

    “What? Oh no, this isn’t fake blood at all. I slaughtered a goat a few minutes ago. Why do you ask?”

  20. Jack
    November 1, 2007 at 7:15 pm

    I’m with the Halloween lovers. I love it, love it, love it. There’s hardly anything more magical than the flicker of a (real) candle in a jack-o-lantern.

    My wife stays home and doles out the candy while I go through the neighborhood with my little ones. I think part of my attachment to the holiday stems from the strange sort of security children feel when they venture into spooksville while clinging to an invincible parent. This sense of security is heightened by the presence of other trick-or-treaters scattered through the neighborhood on all sides so as to place one in the center. And it is further heightened by coming in contact with friendly gift givers and familiar faces (those that are recognizable).

    I agree with Ugly Mahana, RAF and others — that it is a rare opportunity for the neighborhood to mingle. When else to we do that?

  21. lief
    November 1, 2007 at 8:15 pm

    Other than the 4th of July, Halloween is one of the few communal, civic holidays retained in America. There is something fundamentally satisfying about the sense of community trick-or-treating provides – if neighbors I’ve never gotten around to speaking with before are willing to put out a pumpkin and give my kids candy, I feel like there is some hope that we could have each other’s back if a real emergency or threat developed. And the community celebration is probably subconsciously useful as a sort of in-group identity ritual that anthropologists are so fond of. Christmas and Thanksgiving are great holidays, but have a family unit-based feel that excludes the surrounding community.

    Also, getting worked up about the “evil” aspects of Halloween seems anachronistic to me. I can’t bring myself to equate old European paganism with evil, since I don’t generally treat other religions that way. Besides, the notion that whatever pre-Christian traditions survive in modern Halloween are necessarily “evil” is mostly the result of propaganda by the medieval Roman church, which I see no reason to buy into as a modern Mormon.

  22. Sue
    November 1, 2007 at 8:48 pm

    We were besieged with trick-or-treaters. We went through ten bags of candy by 8:00, then turned the lights off and cowered inside. It was insanity.

  23. John Welch
    November 1, 2007 at 10:40 pm


    In St. Louis there is a strict requirement that kids are only rewarded with candy after telling a joke or singing a song or doing a skit or something. Many locals hold out on candy until the teenagers came up with something decent. The jokes aside, I’ll admit that I enjoyed the frolicking fun of Fasching (German Marti Gras) more than the macabre celebration of Halloween. Both are topsy-turvy celebrations of the lords of misrule. On Fasching the weekend starts by the rightful prince and princess riding into town to regain their political seat. The mayor and his civic servants, dressed as witches and sorcerers, wait to do battle with the prince and his legion. After hurling verbal and confetti fodder at the mayor, the prince’s army storms the town hall and brings the mayor out in chains. He remains chained for the weekend and no city business can be done until the party is over.

    Both celebrate the existence of antagonist forces. Both reassert the dominant forces of the day when the night is over. Fasching restores civic order and reaffirms the political institution. In America, we are about individualism and self-actualization so our topsy-turvy night is about the things we wish we were, but aren’t: cool like the Fonz, employed like a doctor, beloved like a princess, risk-takers like the risqué tease, powerful like a super-hero. In the morning, the lords of the day reign again and we get back on the train to commute into work.

    While Halloween does bring neighbors out together on the street, it is about what we are each doing individually, not collectively, like Fasching.

  24. Norbert
    November 2, 2007 at 1:23 am

    Here in Finland, the popularity of Halloween seems tied to the popularity of American culture. Ten years ago, it was creeping into the culture, and one sees Halloween decorations in shops, but I get the feeling it is somewhat sneered at at this point. At church, they’ve tried Halloween parties but they were poorly attended an only the temporary expats really pushed it. At our international school, it barely gets a mention.

    We bought two pumpkins. One my mil cut up and pickled, which is quite tasty. The other became a jackolantern. How’s that for multicultural?

  25. Jonathan Green
    November 2, 2007 at 3:20 am

    John, the weird thing about Halloween in Germany is that it’s only ten days before the opening of the Fasching season on 11/11, but I can’t tell there’s any crosstalk between the two holidays.

    Greenfrog, why not permit the dark costumes, and give the goths a chance to look just like everyone else?

  26. November 2, 2007 at 7:53 am

    I love John’s note — I’d probably enjoy Halloween much more if I could adopt and keep in mind his explanation, rather than feeling mildly annoyed with adults who can’t leave a kids’ party to the kids. Fasching, however, might be somewhat risky, at least here in SLC. Our outgoing mayor is so polarizing that I imagine the sham battle might become real when a significant portion of our citizens “forgot” to release him from his chains come Monday morning.

  27. Peter LLC
    November 2, 2007 at 11:26 am

    In Austria, Halloween ranks right up there with The Sound of Music in the category “American Exports We Love to Hate,” and is only slightly more interesting than the fuss over McDonalds.

  28. jnilsson
    November 2, 2007 at 5:20 pm

    The great thing about trick-or-treating in Utah is the culturally-approved practice of visiting General Authority’s homes for the “Lord’s chocolate.” I report from experience that it tends to be of the Dove’s variety. Very yummy!

  29. Amy
    November 2, 2007 at 8:27 pm

    I love Halloween! One of the few holidays I don’t have to buy presents, decorate my house, cook for anyone; you get the picture!!! And when else can my daughters be someone they want to be? My little one got to be Wendy (from Peter Pan) and fly down the streets (Neverland). My second grader got to be Laura Ingalls from her books. The were thrilled. We talked to the neighborhood, walked with other families and laughed and talked carefree.

    Halloween is what you make of it. You want it to be gross, evil, dark? It is. You want it to be sweet, creative, imaginative, thrilling, and just a little fun-scary? It is. Can’t wait for next year!!!

  30. Murray
    November 3, 2007 at 5:04 pm

    Unfortunately, one of the more bizarre aspects of American culture has been imported to Australia even! I don’t mind basketball, some American music is OK, but why does the Church (or individuals in it) seem to think we need Halloween parties here? We have survived for a couple of hundred years here without it. Why do we need it now? This year our Ward youth went way over the top with a spook alley thing with big bones from the local butcher and the Young Men’s Presidents head on a platter. I was surprised there was no feinting, even though the YMP is quite a handsome young bloke (Crikey, do you know what a bloke is?). They even had a stack of non-member kids there! Anyway, while it was all going on, a EQP counsellor and I managed to make some well needed changes to the HT assignments, so while all hell broke loose around us we managed to quitely sit in the Clerks office doing the Lord’s work. Gosh it was fun!

  31. November 3, 2007 at 6:20 pm

    People know where GAs live and go trick-or-treating there?

    I’d be a terrible Utah Mormon. That sounds hideously disrespectful (or something) to me, unless you happen to be their neighbor.

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