Catholic Spirituality,  Catholics Do What?,  Evangelization,  Family Life,  Parenting

Go ahead and trick or treat (it won’t destroy your children’s innocence)

Is it just me, or do the Halloween mommy wars seem to be heating up early this year? Maybe I’m just more tuned in because my kids are older, and therefore have stronger opinions on which horrible acrylic superhero costume they’d most like to don from Costco this year. Or maybe things really are more intense?

Whatever the case, I wanted to offer a curated list of resources for justifying one’s guiltless participation in the annual neighborhood candy crawl. Because I don’t know about you guys, but there’s usually only one way Butterfingers are coming into my possession, and it’s through the unintended generosity of my sleeping children and their unguarded plastic pumpkins.

So, in the spirit of the spookiest time of year, here’s a terrifying list of all the reasons you might think you shouldn’t be celebrating the Devil’s holiday (a true oxymoron if ever there was one) and why they’re wrong.

1. It’s the devil’s holiday.

False. Halloween is an abbreviated name for “All Hallow’s Eve,” aka the night before All Saint’s Day. The Church has been celebrating All Saint’s Day on November 1st for more than a thousand years, and the night before a major feast day is when the faithful hold vigil for the great celebration to come. Now, do a lot of people toss out the larger feast – All Saints Day – in favor of the precursor of Halloween? Well, yeah, because we live in a secular culture. But we ought to be able to hold our own a culture that has bastardized every other Christian holiday to mean something quite different from its original intent, oughtn’t we?

Also, death and eternal damnation? Both real. We’re all marching towards eternity, and we’ll choose to spend it in hell, eternally separated from God, or in heaven with Him forever. We probably should be spending more time focusing on our own mortality, honestly, and Halloween seems like an ideal time to broach that topic with your kids when they see skeletons and ghosts and the like.

It’s fine to choose to ignore the costumes and the trick or treating if that’s what fits your family culture best, just like you might choose to (sob) forgo Santa. But don’t choose to do this because Halloween belongs to satan. It doesn’t. It’s our feast, and it’s up to Christians to sanctify the culture in which we live.

2. Well if it’s not satanic, it’s definitely pagan.

Maybe. But not so fast. Pope Gregory III transferred the feast of All Saints to November first in the 9th century, so it could hardly have been a “reactionary response to the neopagan resurrection of the ancient harvest festival/ancestor worship” that resurged in popularity in the 19th century. And just as Christianity baptized Aristotle and co-opted December 25th for Christmas, so what if the celebration of All Saint’s – a worthy day of remembrance of the dead if ever there was one – intentionally coincides with the Celtic harvest festival/day of the dead? Think of it as a perfecting of our innate human instinct to worship and sanctify. We’re hardwired toward Divinity, whether or not we’ve heard the Gospel. That’s what evangelization is: the full-flowering of the innate sense of truth we’re all born with (maybe you call it natural law) into a relationship with the Truth we encounter in the person of Jesus Christ. So some pagan people were celebrating a feast of remembering the dead before they met Jesus and learned about eternal life (and the reality of eternity spent in heaven or hell)? Great! Let’s work with that.

3. Good Christians have harvest festivals and parties at church instead of trolling the neighborhood.

What? Why?

And can’t we do both? If it’s a time-constraint situation or a personal preference, that’s completely fine. In the finite economy of mommy’s time and creative energy, two separate sets of costumes and partying 2 days in a row might be a bit much, and that’s perfectly understandable, but there’s nothing intrinsically evil about knocking on your neighbor’s doors dressed as Elsa and begging for candy.

(Actually it’s the most neighborly night of the year, at least in our area, and one of the few times we actually interact with a wider orbit of neighbors. And the older folks on our block love it. So, so much. Maybe one of these two-fer saint and not costumes can help you out?)

Trick or treating is a mishmash custom of American and English Catholicism, the children of the latter practicing the custom of knocking on neighbor’s doors and begging for “a soul cake” in exchange for prayers for the souls of their departed loved ones. Sounds kind of like a corporal work of mercy to me.

4. Kids will get into the occult if you let them dress up like demonic figures/focus too much on scary stuff.

Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Or maybe you could go the old fashioned common sensical route like my parents did, and just forbid your kids to dress up like things that are demonic or occultic. No Dementors or witches or bloodied serial killers will roam our halls. But we might very well have one million different variations on Batman in our costume box in the basement. And lightsabers galore.

We were never allowed to go as witches or warlocks or fortune tellers, but luckily there were – and are – approximately one million other costume options out there. Did your neighbor turn their front yard into a terrifying graveyard scene with skeletons and bloodied corpses crawling out of the lawn. That is weird, and I’m sorry. (And I’m also in your boat, btw.) But we simply pass on by the scary houses and trot happily on to the more brightly-lit jackolanterned porches in our hood.

You can use good judgement as a parent and decide that while your 5 year old might happily enjoy being creeped out by a giant spider in a fake web, she might not take so kindly to the dad next door wearing full zombie paint with a bloody baby doll “corpse” hanging off his shoulder. People are weirdos, and weirdos are gonna weird out no matter what. But that’s because some people are weirdos, not because Halloween is intrinsically disordered. Just go to the next house.

5. Syringes in the candy, glass in the caramel apples.

I found this one absolutely fascinating, as did my little sister when I quizzed her on it this morning. We were both able to pinpoint, almost to the year, the Halloween when our parents started dumping out all our candy and checking for drugs and needles. It tracks perfectly with this author’s explanation of the crazy (and actually anti-Catholic, super weird!) roots of this urban legand.

6. I just don’t want to get into that whole “culture of death” scene, some we’re going to sanctify the the hell out of November 1st and ignore October 31st altogether.

That’s totally fine. But I think it’s a missed opportunity to do both/and; to be in the culture as salt and light while still not being of the world. At least it might be. (And if your kids want to test out their St. George and the Dragon costumes on the neighbors before the bigger feast the next day? Bonus candy.)

As for us, we’ll trick or treat on Saturday night, and then we’ll get up on Sunday morning for Mass and a huge, awesome All Saint’s Day feast with 100 of our closest friends hosted by a wonderful religious community in our area. Complete with costumes. And if I may be so bold as to pass on a two-fer suggestion of my very own for all you other last minute (ahem) mamas out there:

HalloweeeeekJust saying.



  • Colleen Martin

    That’s how we roll – sinners one night, saints the next 🙂

    Although I am the mom who won’t let my kids dress up as anything scary or gory, I want them to have fun dressing up and celebrating, not scaring the bejeezus out of the toddler walking down the street.

  • Ashley

    Bravo!! Well said.

    We are so blessed that our parish has a rocking All Saints party every year, with all kids attending mass in their saints costumes, then fun games and food after. So my deal with my kids is I will do my very non-crafty-mom best on a saint costume. And they can wear that for Halloween, or just put something together themselves out of the dress up clothes. But we are definitely trick-or-treating!

    • Jenny Uebbing

      That’s awesome! And I figure as long as I do my duty as a parent to emphasis the bigness of All Saint’s Day, there’s certainly no harm in letting my kids dress like superheros and case the neighborhood with the other kids on the block.

  • Dee Janik

    Thank you. Just had the conversation about the satanic holiday business with a nurse in my doctor’s office this morning, advising of the true meaning of the word “Halloween”. We live in Indy, so my grandson (3) will be an Indycar driver and his sister (1 1/2) a 500 Festival princess. I am all for a Happy evening 🙂

  • Terry Knox

    You can pitch it anyway you like but it doesn’t change that what it is which at worst is a night of glorifying evil,goblins, masks, death, and at best doing homage to consumerism

    And as Catholic Christians its shocking to see it whitewashed

    • Jenny Uebbing

      Did you read the linked articles putting the day in the historical (and liturgical) context? Or are you just referring to modern day slasher/gore Halloween celebrations, which are certainly out there, but which have nothing to do with the actual feast of All Hallow’s Eve.

  • J.

    Romans 12:2

    “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

    I understand that it is a part of the American tradition to trick or treat and it is hard to let go because many had great memories in one’s own childhood celebrating Halloween. I who used to celebrate Halloween decided three years ago to stop but instead go to mass, talk to my children about Saints and fast on the 31.10 to prepare and examine my conscience for repentance for All Saints day and All souls Day for the faithful souls in purgatory. I think that one can find many reasons, for and against celebrating Halloween, and at the end of the day everyone is responsible for one’s actions before GOD. I humbly recommend instead of searching for answers and talking to friends and family for the answers, one should turn to GOd and ask him directly for answers! I guarantee he will answer if one lives in Grace (living a sacramental life going to confession and receiving him in blood and body of christ every Sunday) We were all born into sin by Adam and Eve and think that our perception on things especially, if one does not live a sacramental life, can easily stray into ungodly things. It is in our nature and one should know that only GOD can give you the TRUE answer to the dilemma on Halloween within Catholic families and or any another problems one may come across in LIFE.

  • Jean

    I loved Halloween trick-or-treeting with my kids when they were little (and loved their candy even more). Now my grandchildren are out there every year. I still enjoy going for a walk on that night with my husband to see the decorations and the kids dressed up. Now that we’re older, though, we do pay more attention to All Saints and All Souls Day and attend Mass, as well we pray in particular for the dead throughout the month of November. It’s a blessing to have and to celebrate our rich Christian heritage no matter what stage of life we’re in. Wishing all a Happy, Blessed All Hallows Triduum.

  • Jean

    Jenny, do you think “Halloween mommy wars” is a relatively new invention? By that I mean when my kids were little, and when my husband and I were small there wasn’t the push back from anyone over taking part in celebrations. In fact, if anything, it was viewed as a celebration mocking anything dark and evil because Christ triumphed over death and therefore we as Christians could celebrate eternal life, which we do in part through All Saints and All Souls Day Masses. I’ve provided the link below to Fr. Steve Grunow “It’s Time For Catholics To Embrace Halloween” from Word on Fire.

    Anyone who feels strongly against participating – were you prevented from doing so as a child, and if not did it harm your development as a Catholic? What about other “worldly” celebrations? Did they harm your faith? Between my husband’s and my families we are blessed to have two priests and a bishop in our own generation, all of whom I can attest went trick-or-treating, hung their Christmas stockings, went on Easter egg hunts and strained our aunt’s and uncle’s finances via the tooth fairy.

    Yes, we are called to live in but not be of this world, but it’s a misinterpretation of Scripture to paint participation in local customs as an us vs. them issue. Ultimately it’s up to parents as to whether or not they’ll allow their children to take part but if your goal is to raise God fearing Christians you don’t need to be a killjoy to accomplish that end.

  • Natalie

    There is also a trend in Halloween mommy wars about the amount of sugar being fed to kids and the NEED for that sugar to be organic and FAIR TRADE or whatever. I’m a librarian and every Halloween I bring several bags of candy to share with the kids who come in for a trick-or-treat photo op with the uber popular library staff (ha). Most of the kids love it and we have lots of families trailing through because it has become a fun way for younger kids to participate early in the day before it gets dark/scary. This year I bought a shamelessly large bag of Kit Kats, Snickers, and Three Musketeers (I ATE MOST OF THEM ON MY WAY INTO THE OFFICE BUT OH WELL.) and a mom publicly scolded me for not buying the Justin’s Organic peanut butter cups from Whole Foods, which cost like $10 for 4 or something. I know that eating organic is important, but we need to stop the shaming. Also, eating some candy one day out of the year never hurt anyone, as long as it’s not a regular habit. Remember all the junk we ate in the 80s and 90s? Pretty sure none of it was organic (quite the opposite, actually.) And we turned out fine. 😉

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