Halloween ~ I Surrender

I took Brienne and Laurent trick or treating this week, walking through the woodsmoke scented neighborhoods of our town.

You know what's strange? The French don't say "Trick or Treat". That's an English phrase. There is no French script for showing up the door and begging for candy. Without the script the exchange feels kind of weird. But halloween is weird to begin with.

When I was a child, up until about Brienne or Laurent's age, we weren't allowed to go trick or treating. It wasn't all that much of a problem since we lived out in the country and there weren't kids coming to our door. Instead, we participated in church harvest parties and the like.

Halloween was considered evil and not a spiritually appropriate activity for Christian families to engage in. And then my parents changed their mind. Not so much about the origins of Halloween, or even the truly evil and sinister stuff that happens on October 31st. They simply changed their minds about trick or treating. And I couldn't have been happier.

This change coincided with our move to town and I still remember walking up and down our prairie town street with my brother, asking for candy from the neighbors. Very similar to Brienne and Laurent's experience this week; right down to the bossy sister, accompanied by a compliant brother.

As far as I can remember, the candy part of Halloween was never a problem for my parents. Halloween's origins were.

The question of whether Christians should participate in activities of pagan origin is quite a conundrum. Most of our beloved Christmas traditions - you know, that holiday where we celebrate the birth of our savior - are rooted in ancient pagan worship and tradition. When the church converted pagan medieval folks those people brought their pesky superstitions and earth-worshipping habits with them. Many of those traditions are so pervasive in our Christian culture now that no one even questions their dubious origins. And here's a thought for you - our very church structure and routines have origins in pagan practices.

Just as "most of what Christians do in present-day churches is rooted, not in the New Testament, but in pagan culture and rituals developed long after the death of the apostles" (quote from a Pagan Christianity book review), so too are many of our holiday celebrations and traditions.

Some Christians find this very disturbing and in response they choose not to engage in activities like Halloween or Christmas. They pull out of the prevailing culture entirely. This seems like a consistent response at least.

Other people pick and choose - rejecting the overtly evil Halloween (buying their kids candy nonetheless, because kids know what's important here - it's the sugar!) but putting up a Christmas tree for baby Jesus.

In spite of my Christian upbringing and very much alive and vibrant faith, Halloween as a cultural activity does not bother me. The very real evil that some people engage in on Halloween (and I'm not talking about earth worship or something like that but truly evil stuff) does not for me represent Halloween.

My biggest criticism of Halloween is all the cheap sugar. I know some of you might be shaking your heads, "but you're missing the point Renee, it's a pagan holiday!" Folks, in case I haven't made it clear, I think most of Christmas is a holiday rooted in pagan tradition, and I think most of our church-i-ology is rooted in ancient pagan religion and practices. So, Halloween rooted in ancient Samhain practices doesn't bother me. 

These aren't pagan things so much as cultural practices. Adopted through hundreds of years of tradition. And so I still hang those lights and decorate a tree because this is a dark time of year friends. My northern European ancestors were onto something. You need extra light this time of year to maintain hope. Even the pagans knew that.

But the candy - ack! A totally modern invention, really no historical precedent that I know of. Just a scheme to sell cheap sugar. Sugar and cocoa harvested and manufactured under very questionable practices, I should add.

So, you want to know what I did this year to combat this?


I totally surrendered to the prevailing culture. And you know what, it was ok.

Some of you may remember last year's post where I ranted about how fed up I was with sugar. I moaned about our sugar-crazed culture and blamed a nasty cold on the Halloween sugar-fest. I was gently corrected to not make such a direct correlation, there are other factors. You were right.

There were a ton of comments on that post and I definitely got the sense that some of you worried I was being overly restrictive on the sugar thing and this might backfire on me someday. Trust me, this is something I have considered at length.

Sometimes I take the moral high ground and sometimes I simply surrender.

In the scheme of things, how awful will it really be for my kids to go trick or treating? To come home and divide up the loot with their older sister (who stayed home to watch The Addam's Family with dad), and for the next three days eat a whack of candy and chips. Will this depress their immune system? Probably (that sucks). Will it mess with their taste buds for the short term so they don't appreciate our clean and healthy food as much? Maybe. Will it cause them to reject all we've taught them about health and wellness, become obese, carnivorous, crap-food eating adults? Probably not.

My kids don't have any allergic reactions to eating dye, corn syrup and flavors. (Oh, that sounds so disgusting.) If they did, this would be a different issue. As it is, it's simply a question of - are we are going to allow a culturally accepted practice in our home or not? It's not a matter of life or death (I know some of you would disagree, that's ok.)

My kids are reaching an age of accountability. Totally freaks me out. Celine is nearly there. I won't get to make the food choices much longer for my kids. And I feel strongly there needs to be times that the rules are relaxed both in and out of our home so our kids don't feel they have to reject everything we've tried to teach them just so they can experiment with new ideas.

There has to be freedom, as well as boundaries. And this becomes more important as our children grow into young adults. Where to draw this line is one of the very real challenges of living with intention and integrity. And all we can do is pray for wisdom and grace and be real and honest with our growing children about our own inconsistencies.

This has to do with so much more than Halloween. It's why we encourage questions, debate and discussion about things sacred and not sacred. It's why we teach with words, but mostly just live with our lives the values we want to instill in our children. It's why we discuss evolution and creation, play video games, eat burgers and fries after a backpacking trip, and occasionally watch PG-13 movies with our not-yet thirteen year old youngsters. (These are pretty lame examples, but you get the idea.)

Some things really matter. Love, honesty, trust, core values of a faith or religion. And other things don't. And this year I decided that four days of sugar hype just didn't matter all that much.

But, I may feel differently next week when I have to deal with sugar-hype fall out.

Renee Tougas participates in affiliate marketing, including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. Whenever you buy something on Amazon from a link you clicked here, I get a (very) small percentage of that sale. See disclosure for further explanation.

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  • Cath

    Cath on Nov. 2, 2012, 5:51 p.m.

    I had luck this year negotiating a switch - the vast majority of the loot in exchange for a few new books. of course, my husband will spend the next 3 weeks in the basement snarfing all the crap down, but I was pretty pleased with the result!

    PS LOVE the leaf crown!!


  • Mindy

    Mindy on Nov. 2, 2012, 6:32 p.m.

    I appreciate this post so much!

    My daughter is 3 and is already in love with the idea of Halloween. I don't like the overload of candy but we've make an effort to (try) to make candy "no big deal" in our home. She can have limited amounts, enough to keep her from going ga-ga over it and limited enough that I don't freak out over the sugar. Definitely takes balance...My issue, now that I'm a mother, is the whole idea of taking candy from strangers! In my mind I spend 364 days teaching her not to take candy (or anything else) from strangers. Then this one day comes along and it's suddenly "ok" on that one day? No thanks. She does get to dress up, which is her favorite, and we visit family. We do live in the country so there is no nearby neighborhoods to visit. Perhaps if we lived in a neighborhood where we knew the people, I'd feel differently. But for now, I'm not letting that one day undo what we enforce the other 364. It's been entertaining to see the reactions of folks when they ask if we took her trick-or-treating. At first they look at me like I'm the worlds worst mother. Once they hear my logic, they give it a second thought. I'm going to milk this as long as I can but I feel sure I'll, too, surrender.


  • Tonya

    Tonya on Nov. 2, 2012, 6:46 p.m.

    Such a tight rope act - this parenting thing, isn't it. What a great post Renee.
    We also do trick-or-treating and I can't stand the candy either - but i also don't find it to be evil or against our Christian faith - that is, simply the act of dressing up and collecting candy in the neighborhood. Our children truly look forward to it and it is amazing how quickly the candy is gone anyway. I love all the effort your children put into their costumes. Duct tape is a favorite in our home too.


  • Charity Johnson

    Charity Johnson on Nov. 2, 2012, 7:07 p.m.

    I LOVE this post Renee! And I feel inclined to share our family story. Growing up I was not allowed to celebrate Halloween. In fact, we shut all the window shades, turned off all the lights, hunkered down with a movie and a bag of candy....and taped John 3:16 to the front door. I remember sneaking upstairs to take a peek out the window at all the other children in their costumes. One year I chose to stay the night with a friend on Halloween just so I could go trick or treating (my parents unaware of our plans). I dressed as an angel, thinking this wouldn't be so bad. I remember the fear that swelled in me as the night wore on, to the point that I was convinced that the devil himself was going to drag me to the pit. I confessed to my parents, and we spent the evening "repenting." I grew up AFRAID on Halloween. Alan had a different story....trick or treating with the cousins every year, and enjoying their loot. When we had Kaylynn, we discussed our position on Halloween at length. I didn't want my children growing up afraid of a day. I wanted them to rejoice in and celebrate EVERY day! Thus, our family solution....we do not do Halloween parties (I like to stay away from any creepy costume, especially because my kids are young and would just be scared), we do not go out trick or treating (because I do not want all that candy nor do I want to have my children asking for all that candy), we do not do harvest parties (because there aren't any in our town). So, we either have a birthday party for Alan's mom (because her birthday is on Halloween) OR we have even taken the kids out in costume and let them GIVE away candy to the neighbors. This is the most fun we have had! We LOVE dressing up, and the kids LOVED giving the candy away. And all of our neighbors are blessed to see kids giving away candy. This year we actually forgot about Halloween altogether, but we did swing by the grocery store to pick up a bag of candy to give away to the neighbor kids as the came a knocking. We turn on all the lights, leave open all the curtains...the kids answer the door and hand out gobs of candy. We carve pumpkins, and we rejoice in the beautiful day without giving any thought to evil. Evil happens everyday all around us (and I am talking real evil), but we don't close ourselves up or live in fear, or choose not to walk out the front door. I don't like the creepiness of Halloween, I HATE (I know it's an extreme word but it's true) the gore that is sometimes portrayed (but I just don't like that kind of stuff), I don't like all the candy, but I love the joy that I see on my kiddos' faces as they hand out candy. I LOVE the excitement of harvesting the pumpkins from the garden with the intent to paint, color, decorate with stickers, or carve. And those things are simple delights of a child! (My parents have since also changed their minds about Halloween....we all do what we think is right in the moment, and sometimes that changes)


    • renee

      renee on Nov. 2, 2012, 8:15 p.m.

      Charity, your family is always so others focused I just love it. I have so much to learn from you. 


  • Merrielle

    Merrielle on Nov. 3, 2012, 1:18 a.m.

    Thanks for this post. I have to say, your post about feeding your kids date balls flashed thru my mind as we stood in line for a hay ride at church 'Trunk or Treat' on Wednesday night. My kids had candy - lots of it - even though in real life we steer towards mostly whole unrefined foods. As I finished the last nibble of my son's sugar cookie my husband looked shocked and said, "Wow! You've really fallen off the wagon!" Shame. Honestly I thought, "I bet Renee would never allow her children to poison their bodies this way." This post reminded me that we're all real people choosing the highest and best road we can while enjoying the people, traditions and culture with which God has surrounded us at this time in our lives. I still think you are great - and I no longer feel guilty. Although I am CONVINCED that my current stuffy nose is the fault of that processed sugar :)


    • renee

      renee on Nov. 3, 2012, 2:32 a.m.

      Oh my goodness Merrielle, if only you knew! Just because I don't bake cookies and treats doesn't mean we don't eat them! 


  • Anonymous

    Anonymous on Nov. 3, 2012, 1:56 a.m.

    At the last minute post-trick-or-treating I told my four-year-old that he could trade in his candy to the candy fairies and get a toy in return. He was SO delighted to find Legos the next morning, way more excited than a bunch of candy. But he was thrilled with the whole event, and most of all giving out candy. So sweet.


  • Catherine Forest

    Catherine Forest on Nov. 3, 2012, 2:45 a.m.

    What a great post! I am totally with you... Our girls have big reactions to food dye and corn syrup and cheap sugar, so we organize pumpkin hunts every year with homemade treats. We did just that this year, but all by ourselves in the desert (Dad hid the pumpking 8 times and had to prepare 8 riddles for the girls to find the answer to and get the treats!). We all had a blast and nobody was feeling crappy and crabby the next day! Love the homemade costumes by the way!


  • Heather Caliri

    Heather Caliri on Nov. 3, 2012, 4:40 a.m.

    I took my girls to a Dia de los Muertos celebration this year for the first time--I'm learning a lot about Mexican culture this year, and thought I'd dip my toe in. It's much like Halloween in that its pagan roots are displayed proudly on its sleeve, instead of hidden behind a tree. And you know, the skeleton theme still kind of creeps me out, but I was blessed by the honoring of those loved ones that have died, the remembering of them. I am tired of labeling these pagan traditions "bad" and tossing the baby out with the bath water. None of us are so pure as to receive our faith from God without our culture touching it profoundly. Sometimes surrendering to the reality of our culture and not being afraid of it is a blessing, too.


  • Karen

    Karen on Nov. 3, 2012, 1:09 p.m.

    Amen sister......would you just get out of my head for a minute? Your words are wonderful and every time I read them I think...why didn't I say that? I love you more each post I read. Thank you for sharing your views about Halloween....can't agree more. We purely do it for the candy/sugar and we are Christians too. We talk about the pagan and wrong part with our kids and then let them experience the fun part by dressing up and begging for candy! And they love it and we love it.


  • Karen

    Karen on Nov. 3, 2012, 1:12 p.m.

    And if you don't remember who I am by the gray haired avatar that has been popping up in your comments...I thought I better change my avatar so you remember this girl that sat next to you talking homeschool shop at allume!!! Have a blessed day new friend!


    • renee

      renee on Nov. 3, 2012, 1:15 p.m.

      Oh my goodness! Of course I remember you Karen! I loved chatting with you. And now that I've reconciled "you once were white, but now you're not" I'm good.


  • Cat

    Cat on Nov. 3, 2012, 1:57 p.m.

    By the way, just so you know ''Trick or Treat'' in french does have a translation and we do use it when we go out to fill our bags full of awful goodies. The saying is '' Farce ou friandises'' wich basically translate to ''a joke or candies". And believe me, my son Merlin who yearly dresses up as a magicien (I think it comes naturally because of his name hi!hi!) says it loud and clear to everyone who will hear it. I personally think eating bad sugar once in a while will never undo all the teaching you have done over the years. I know for my kids, once all the candy is gone they sort of feel relieved and so do I.


    • renee

      renee on Nov. 3, 2012, 2:26 p.m.

      Thanks Cat. We asked our local friends but they didn't know a translation or substitute phrase for Trick or Treat. Looking forward to seeing you soon (I'll be e-mailing you asap about that!) Merlin the Magician - love it!


  • Mary-Sue

    Mary-Sue on Nov. 3, 2012, 5:41 p.m.

    I am a pagan homeschooler who enjoys your blog. I twitched a little reading this one, feeling that you are doing your best to be respectful, but still looking down on us pagans. Too bad. I would encourage you to read the Pagan Christ. That was the book that erased all the tension I felt towards Christians. I have pretty thick skin, but I do wish more people were informed, as you are. Thanks for pointing out the factual links between paganism and christianity. There's more, lots more, but... thanks! Love your blog!


    • renee

      renee on Nov. 3, 2012, 6:06 p.m.

      Mary-Sue, Oh hon I'm totally not looking down on pagans and really, I know very few actual pagans, people who worship in those traditions. I don't equate paganism with non-christian beliefs either. Since many people who aren't christians identify with other belief systems. It's complicated and I'm sorry I have potentially offended you (this is why I'm so hesitant to talk about faith stuff and then when I do I inevitably stumble somewhere, put my foot in my mouth, etc).  I honestly do not look down on people of other faiths or beliefs. Unfortunately, and to my shame, the people I "look down" on most are other Christians - for whom my standards are very high. I'm ashamed to even admit this. This is definite area of, what I consider actual "sin", unfairly judging other Christians. It's terrible and I hide it pretty well in my writing, but man, if you could see inside my thoughts. So, after I just bared myself very plainly there, I assure you - I don't judge people of other faiths and religions. It's not my place to do so. And so it bothers me that you perceive that tone in this post because that really is not how I view the world. 


  • Kristin

    Kristin on Nov. 4, 2012, 12:03 p.m.

    Renee... Great post! Your kid's costumes rock!!

    We didn't celebrate Trick or Treat this year due to a two year old who started being scared of the gore at the grocery store in September! Growing up I loved dressing up and making our own costumes. Definitely a tradition I want to pass down. However, I also want to pass down the other tradition we had. That was to celebrate Remformation Day and Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses to the church door. Our homeschool co-op would hold a Reformation Party and we'd dress up like characters of significance from history. They didn't need to be Christian, but you, the wearer of the costume, needed to know about the individual's life because you had to pretend to be them all evening! Even the parents got into it. It was a great time of celebration, history, and always a hoot to see "Paul the Apostle", "Joan of Arch" and even "Martin Luther" bobbing for apples. :-)


  • Neptune

    Neptune on Nov. 4, 2012, 6:44 p.m.

    Traditionally, there is indeed nothing to replace "trick or treats". But generally "Joyeux Halloween" is indicated if you want candies, at least around my parts :)

    We have sugar and dyes allergies here, so Halloween is always a little touchy. But we have managed around it with a fun treasure seeking night, and baking sweets during the day that can be eaten up during the night. I wish I could not have to make a case about Halloween, but I have learned to just work around it, and it works like a charm. I think attitude has a lot to do with it. The forbidden is always more interesting...whether it is for religious or other reasons.

    I love your attitude about this though. Whatever comes through, we shall go through it as a family and talk about it. THis is something I want to go towards as my children gets older.

    thanks for this thought provoking post


  • Julia

    Julia on Nov. 4, 2012, 9:10 p.m.

    Hi Renee I do enjoy reading your blog and your thought provoking posts. I suppose my biggest problem with Halloween is not the candy but the idea of trick or treat ie. that children are encouraged to approach people, often strangers, demanding a treat or else they will play a trick, presumably something unpleasant on them.I have never felt that this is an activity that I wish to endorse - a kind of blackmail I suppose?! I also have some issue with the increasing commercialism around this time of year. Happy Halloween ? What are we actually celebrating here?


  • Elli

    Elli on Nov. 5, 2012, 3:02 a.m.

    Isn't it fascinating that the people of God are able to transform even pagan holidays, like Christmas and Easter, into times that celebrate Him and His light and life? I'm always struck by how, even in things that were once dark, He is able to shine His light--imbuing even those things with newness. What an awesome God who triumphs over evil.


  • Kyce

    Kyce on Nov. 6, 2012, 2:54 a.m.

    I would love to have a conversation with you in person about this, but for now want to add simply that your statement, "The question of whether Christians should participate in activities of pagan origin is quite a conundrum," made me giggle because for me, a secular humanist who draws great inspiration from progressive Christian teachings, ALL of the Christian holy days are rooted in pagan holidays. Christmas, as you mention, has long been the time when the Son of God, (or simply the Sun) has been reborn, bringing light and spiritual strength into the world just as the solstice comes. Easter mirrors the great resurrection of the natural world, and even Halloween and All Soul's Day is a chance to honor the truth of death that surrounds us in dreary November when the natural world goes to sleep. For me, the cycle of nature is God manifested on earth, whether it is the old pagan rites or the church's celebrations of those seasons with their spiritual significance. As I grow in this awareness, it actually draws me closer to the church, able to appreciate its living message. Thanks for sharing some of your faith with us, and for respecting your diverse readers. Keeps it all real, Renee! As for Halloween, I am still happy to keep my littles in the dark about trick or treating, and we go to the Waldorf festival where they get a cup of apple cider and an unsweetened muffin and watch some very sweet vignettes. I think your approach to offering freedom and openness to your growing children is just right and I hope I am able to let go when it is my turn!


    • renee

      renee on Nov. 6, 2012, 11:43 a.m.

      You are so right Kyce. That statement of mine (that made you giggle) was a simplifiication. All our Holy Days or holidays are rooted in the traditions and religions that preceded Christianity. What I was meaning to communicate, in a potentially heavy topic written in only 2 hours, is that some Christians really struggle with participating in Halloween, which for them is very much rooted in pre-Christian or even anti-Christian traditions. They seem this schism more at Halloween than other holiday. I don't. Because like you, I see so many threads that weave my faith together with other belief systems and I completely agree, the cycle of nature IS God manifested on earth. Oh yes sister! This is why nature and being in nature is so important. Why being in the woods, at the ocean, on the mountain top, by a stream - calls me to worship.   


  • Donna

    Donna on Nov. 6, 2012, 5:50 p.m.

    Excellent post. I have read your blog for quite some time but don't usually comment. I just enjoy!

    But this one. So many things I like! When my children were young we went back and forth on Halloween, Christmas and Easter. All of them with Christian and worldly traditions.

    As for the pagan homeschooler, I'm so sorry she took what you said as you looking down on pagans. I did not, and knowing your heart from other writings, I know that's NOT what you meant to do. And I hear you on having high standards for Christians and having to be oh so careful to not judge. I believe church-i-ology to be more dangerous than pagan practices for Halloween.

    I did not like taking my children to the store during Halloween time because they always had the horrendous costumes and decor out rather what could have been much more pleasant and fun. There will always be those who would rather practice the ugly than the good and our children need to know that and as you said, see some of both so they have the freedom to make good choices rather than rejecting ours so they can exeriment.

    As for the sugar? Hopefully their immune systems are strong enough they can withstand the attack! We choose to 'enjoy' sugar sometimes, too, and it's always a really good feeling to get back to eating well and taking good care of our bodies.

    Thank you for tackling this sensitive subject and well done!


    • renee

      renee on Nov. 6, 2012, 6:06 p.m.

      Thank you Donna for sharing your voice here.  The sugar is already out of the system and out of the house. Fast and furious. And everybody is healthy, as usual (knock on wood). We have to eat clean for a couple weeks before a string of birthdays and Christmas celebrations (smile). Totally hear you on gore and gruesome-ness. I very much dislike that aspect of commercialized halloween but then again can't sit too high on my horse since the kids play video games with their dad (non violent-graphic ones) and they are regularly battling zombies and the un-dead. What's a mother to do??


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