On my thirty-second Halloween, I thought a couple of weeks ago after reading this, I’ll finally have an appropriate response.
Growing up, many of the families in my conservative Evangelical circle did not celebrate Halloween at all. They had “harvest parties” that, ironically, were probably more firmly rooted in paganism than the idea of a night when the demons gain a measure of independence from the power of the saints’ prayers.
Others, like mine, allowed trick-or-treating but shunned costumes that seemed to glorify death — no bloody-fanged vampires; hippies, cowboys, or even dice. (This was my sister’s brainstorm: her head, with a black stocking cap, was the single dot. As costumes go, it was pretty straightforward.)
Neither response seems exactly right, though. How can you be a light to the world without marginalizing the traditions of our society (which, on the surface, have merit — on what other night will you spontaneously interact with so many neighborhood children?)
I like Steve’s idea because it allows people to participate in a lovely tradition without too much explanation or judgment. I meant to borrow some supplies from the church yesterday, but amid the post-Liturgy chaos it slipped my mind. So this afternoon I was a little grumpy until I remembered the jar of candles I keep in the icon corner, leftovers from special services like Pascha and memorials. I liked the idea of these unknown children picking up where my prayers left off; what better way to connect with the people of my community?
I rustled around in the basement for a candle box, but after a little brainstorming, decided there really was no acceptable substitute for sand. (Topsoil? Pea gravel? Rock salt? All fall short for different reasons.) So I headed over to Lowe’s to buy some — and lo and behold, found a half-empty bag that I could actually carry out.
It was a nice night, so I opened the windows and turned on The Rudder, a streaming radio station run by some friends in California. It’s a wonderful variety of meditative and joyful Orthodox hymns from all different traditions, and I found that I enjoyed listening to it even in place of the silence I so treasure after a hectic day at school. It was a little too cold to sit outside, so I settled for just inside the door, with my book and a slightly-alarmed cat (music and open windows are not standard operating procedure, and she knows this.)
Just after nightfall, they started to knock. Following Steve’s lead, I offered each one a piece of candy and then asked, “Would you like to light a candle?” Out of dozens of children, I only had one refusal all night — a shy adolescent who was alone. The others were gleeful and full of questions.
“What is it?” some asked. “It’s like a prayer,” I responded, as simply as I could. They understand prayer, I know. In this mostly blue-collar neighborhood, black families are AME or Baptist; Latino means Catholic. The vast majority attend church; it’s the white families who don’t, and very few of those have children of trick-or-treating age.
Mostly, they were probably amazed that an adult was asking them to light something on fire. Well, I’ll take what I can get. Bigfoot removed her furry claws to grasp a beeswax taper, and Mario singed one of his white-gloved fingers. A tiny bumblebee accepted my guiding hand over hers, and her mother was grateful: “That’s really nice,” she said. “What a good idea. That’s really something different.”
They all said that, the adults: from the street, the steps, or — as is disturbingly more common — the car, which I suppose must be more efficient than searching for the next friendly house on foot. “That’s different.” That’s why it worked so well.
“Happy Halloween,” I said, over and over again, and behind me, a Russian deacon intoned his assent: “A-MIIIIIINNNNN!”