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Halloween Essentialism

Halloween is upon us. It is time for ghosts, candy, pumpkin and silly posts like this one.

What is Halloween all about?

There is a history of how Halloween has evolved from Medieval time to now. However, our celebration of Halloween today has little to do with those roots. Sure, we borrow certain images from that tradition. But even those images are more Madison Avenue and Hollywood than they are All Hallow’s Eve.

Halloween as we know it, much like Christmas and Easter, is a construct of 20th century suburbia. Macy’s and Coca-Cola have as much of an influence on Christmas as the winter solstice and any Christian narrative. Halloween is no different, though I might trace it more to K-Mart, Sears, Mars, and Hershey’s.

Does this mean we should take Halloween back from the market influences of capitalism? No, though I appreciate the sentiment.

Halloween, when it comes down to it, is about candy and wearing a costume. I am not a fan of costumes. I am not eating regular candy anymore. But I find Halloween to be fun because my family enjoys it. Halloween works for us. Halloween works for me. My view of Halloween is pretty much an exercise in philosophical pragmatism.

Halloween Essentialism

I see two strands of Halloween essentialism.

The first strand sees Halloween as dark and evil. They see Halloween as demonic.

Now this is not all that much of a stretch. Is not Halloween about ghouls and goblins? It is a holiday we largely celebrate in the actual darkness of night. Halloween also uses symbols that might have at one time been associated with the Occult, paganism, or Voodoo.

640px-HalloweenHowever, much of our discomfort with paganism is rooted in the extent to which we are so close to it. Anglo-European cultures and societies were deeply pagan prior to largely adopting Christianity as a paradigm. The vilification of paganism is as old as European Christianity itself (if not older in that we find heavy doses of it in Augustine’s City of God). It is as much a form of self-loathing as is it is fear.

While Christians have largely co-opted the pagan symbols of Spring Solstice and Winter Solstice for Easter and Christmas (to be honest, few things are more ridiculous than trying to spin the Christmas tree as a Christian symbol), Halloween has not been co-opted for Christian purposes to the same extent. Rather, it has stayed more a target of suspicion. This is particularly the case with fundamentalist Christians, and even some of my fellow Mormons.

I had largely been unaware of this until my first encounter with a “trunk-or-treat.” A trunk or treat is an alternative to trick-or-treating. Instead of going from house to house, youngsters go from car to car in a church or school parking lot. In that particular ranching community, houses had long dirt driveways and were up to a quarter mile apart. The trunk or treat was proposed as a matter of simplifying Halloween night.

One mother was hesitant. Not because of her commitment to traditional trick-or-treating, but she was not sure if it was appropriate to host a pagan holiday event at the church. I do not think she thought Halloween was evil, but she was not sure if the Church would approve.

Luckily, Mormonism (for all it’s weirdness) has always been open to a good holiday celebration and Halloween fits right in.

Trick-or-Treat Essentialism

The second strand of Halloween essentialists are those that think that Halloween should be the Halloween of their childhood. All other variations are an affront to community and tradition.

This strand of Halloween essentialism often appears around Halloween time when variations on the “traditional” Halloween celebration are proposed.

A trunk-or-treat? Blasphemy! Halloween requires a traditional trick-or-treat!

While this is sometimes out of sentiment for the trick-or-treat of our childhood (I think some of you enjoyed it much more than I did), it is sometimes out of concern for community. A trunk-or-treat at a church or school will exclude those that home-school, attend charter schools, or those outside large religious communities (including those that are not part of any religious community).

But let us take a step back. Is trick-or-treating really about community? I have a hard time buying that. Trick-or-treating has roots in hoodlumism and it is now little more than going from door to door trying to get as much free candy as possible.

At the same time, I do worry that by turning off the lights and not greeting our neighbors with candy, that my family will be viewed as aloof and uninterested in our neighborhood. After all, I do not know the names of any of my neighbors and we have lived in our house since February.

I greatly appreciate concerns about community, but trick-or-treating on Halloween night seems to a very thin form of community. However, in the 21st century thin forms of community are all that we have, especially in the transient communities of Las Vegas.

Happy Halloween

I am glad that some people are hardcore Halloween enthusiasts. I appreciate that some people do not want anything to do with it at all.

As a child, I dreaded it. I didn’t like dressing up and I didn’t like knocking on doors. After being a missionary and a politician, I no longer mind knocking on doors. I am still not a big fan of dressing up.

This Halloween, we will be attending the attending an hour of trunk-or-treat at our LDS church building parking lot and then heading door-to-door in our neighborhood.

One of the adults will stay behind to hand out candy. I hope it is me.

Happy Halloween!

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