This is one of my favourite holidays now. As a pagan, I now appreciate the roots of the holiday better than I ever did as a Christian. Growing up fundamental and then transitioning through more liberal churches, I’ve seen a variety of reactions to Halloween, from outright disgust to attempts to adapt around it ala trunk or treat activities and harvest festivals.
When I was a child, we barely even acknowledged that Halloween existed. I remember our school calendar my mother did when we were homeschooling…she would decorate it each month with season-appropriate decorations. When it came to October, though, it was all leaves and harvest stuff. No witches or ghosts or little vampires in sight. We didn’t trick or treat or dress up, which is what really got under my skin the most as I loved playing dress-up as a child, so to me it seemed like I was missing out on the biggest dress-up party of all! I remember going through a store like Wal-Mart or K-Mart and seeing the costume aisle. If I could, I darted down the aisle to look at the costumes. Mostly, I just looked on longingly, internally sighing in frustration that such a fun holiday was deemed off-limits.
Curiously enough, we still carved pumpkins. I remember making the trek up to Dawsonville to visit Burt’s Pumpkin Farm. It wasn’t a short trip, but it was worth it. The air was nice and crisp and there were so many pumpkins lined up and ready for sale, all kinds of sizes and colours available. I remember pictures being taken, of me in a row of pumpkins, sitting on very large pumpkins, sitting next to a scarecrow, riding one of the hay rides. I’m not sure where all the pictures are now, but I remember the farm clearly even without them, just as I remember the little tiny pumpkin my parents bought me. It was so small, it fit well in my hand, even though I couldn’t have been more than 4 at the time. When we got back to the house, we carved the bigger pumpkin we got on the front porch and I was posed for a picture.
When we moved up to International Falls, that October, my parents relented on trick or treating. It was the first and only time I ever got to trick or treat, as my parents put the foot back down the next year. I remember I was so excited to finally get to participate, even though I didn’t have a proper costume. I grabbed an old flannel gown that went down to my feet and put on a long wig I’d bought for dress-up purposes. I wasn’t going for anything in particular, but I liked long dresses and my wig, so it worked. I had to wear a coat, because it was very cold, but I didn’t even notice as a couple of friends and I went from house to house. I don’t remember how long we were out or how many houses we went to, but I got a nice load of candy along with a few homemade treats. I wished it could last forever.
The next year, I had acted out doing something or another, and my parents decided that proper punishment was barring me from trick or treating. I shed many tears and tried my best to act good to try to convince them to let me, but I remember my father eventually admitted that they didn’t want me doing it anyway. I was crushed. That was probably the worst thing I could have heard. If they didn’t want me doing it anyway, then why had they let me the year before? I didn’t know the term at the time, obviously, but today I would call it a dick tease, because that’s definitely what it was. I’m glad I did get to experience one normal Halloween, but the ache of never being able to do it again is not small.
Maybe that seems petty, but it’s how I feel. I missed out on a lot of things growing up, some little, some big. But with every thing I missed out on because I wasn’t allowed to, because of religion and Christianity, it just burns a little more.
When my fiance and I tie the knot and we start having children, I’ll definitely be allowing them to participate in Halloween. I even have costume ideas at the ready for when they’re babies (I’m totally transforming a bear costume into a mini-ewok). When they grow up, if they want to participate less, I won’t force them to still do it. I’ll be grateful that they were given the chance to do it and then decided against it, rather than never having the chance at all. And if they want, I’ll explain the pagan roots of the holiday, and why I’m setting out an extra plate of food and why I won’t talk during dinner. And if they think I’m silly, then they’ll think I’m silly. But if they want to start participating in that with me, then they’ll be more than welcome to.
I think that’s the thing I miss the most in my childhood: choice. Sure, parents need to guide their children into making appropriate choices, but there are quite a few things that they should be able to decide for themselves that I was never allowed to. I never had the option of not going to or participating in church. I never had the option to explore other religions and belief systems for myself to see if it spoke to me. I never had the option to not be a Christian, or accept my parents strict beliefs and and rules regarding their faith instead of searching out what was comfortable to me and spoke to me. If I had, perhaps I would still be a Christian today, on the liberal end of the spectrum. Or perhaps Paganism would have still called to me. Either way, when I have children, I will want to let them think and decide for themselves, without just one option being presented as the only option.
I have a few more post ideas, but I think this will be the only one for today. Thanks for reading, and have a Happy Samhain. 🙂