Last year, at age 33, I went trick-or-treating for the first time in my life. Up until that point, as a matter of principle, I never even handed out candy on Halloween.
The thing is, I grew up in a family that didn't celebrate Halloween because my parents felt uncomfortable with participating in a holiday that had roots in the occult. Therefore, on Halloween night, we either stayed home or we went to the fall festival at our church.
I didn't resent my parents for opting out of Halloween - not at all. In fact, I appreciated it. I mean, I didn't want any part in celebrating the devil's birthday (somebody said that's what all the satanists were doing on October 31). But I definitely paid a price for it at school.
When my teacher gave me coloring sheets with witches and jack-o-lanterns, I sheepishly explained that I didn't celebrate Halloween and asked if I could have a different one. That was always awkward.
The worst part was when it came time for the Halloween party. It was impossible to discreetly opt out of that, but I did my best, which usually just resulted in me quietly leaving for the library. I was okay with that - however, what I was not okay with was the year my fifth grade teacher brusquely told me to go sit in the hallway during the party. She almost seemed angry with me.
I initially felt embarrassed - sitting in the hallway was usually a form of punishment - but then this cute girl named Jessica got sent out there too.
"You don't celebrate Halloween either?" I asked.
"No," she said.
"Why not?" I asked, hoping she would tell me that her parents were charismatic evangelical Christians.
"I'm a Jehovah's Witness," she said.
Great, I thought, I guess this means I really am a weirdo.
So anyway, not participating in Halloween was pretty deeply engrained in me, which makes it all the more remarkable that last year, for the first time in my life, I finally went trick-or-treating.
I wasn't naturally inclined to do it, but my wife and I talked about it, and we figured God wouldn't care too much if we dressed our toddlers as fairies and got some free candy from the neighbors. Besides, we thought it would be fun to do as a family.
To be fair, things got off to a good start - the people in our neighborhood were really sweet to our daughters, and the girls loved dressing up - but eventually, I started getting concerned about the creepy ambiance.
I know this was naive of me, but I wasn't quite prepared for the plenitude of witches, zombies, ghosts, and live-action, death-themed yard displays. I mean, I haven't even exposed my girls to Ursula from The Little Mermaid - and all of a sudden, our little fairies were getting a moderate dose of horror-movie-lite.
Most people would probably think I was being overly-sensitive, but they wouldn't if they could've seen the horrified look on my two-year-old daughter's face when this kid ran up wearing a demonic, screamy-faced mask. When she was afraid at bedtime, I felt like I had let her down, that I should have known better.
In the end, I suppose the worst trick of the night happened at this one house where we knocked on the door and no one came at first. We almost left, but then I noticed someone was peeping through the blinds at us. When I looked at them, they pulled away and their finger bumped a little stained-glass suncatcher in the window that said, "Jesus is Lord."
"Trick or treat," my wife and I said awkwardly.
"Excuse me? What are you talking about?" he said with his brow furrowed. I could see where this was going.
What do you think we're talking about? I wondered. Do you think we normally dress our daughters up as fairies and go around with colorful gift bags asking the neighbors for candy?
"Um - we were just taking the kids around to - you know - get candy - because it's Halloween or whatever," I said.
"Well, I don't know what you're talking about. I mean, we're about to go to a party."
Yeah, I'll bet you're going to a party, I thought, - a harvest party at your evangelical church. I've been to that party, buddy. You don't have to put the rest of the world on a weird guilt trip for going around and getting free candy on the devil's birthday. Jerk.
And with that, we took our daughters by the hands, went to a different house, and tried to shake off the feeling of embarrassment.
Halloween kind of left a bad taste in my mouth last year, and you can call me a quitter, but I think I'm done celebrating it for now. I mean, after last year's experience, I definitely don't plan on taking the girls around the neighborhood to see if someone can permanently traumatize them with a reenactment of Texas Chainsaw Massacre or something.
We heard there's a church down the road that's doing a family festival, so we're thinking that maybe we could do that this year instead. I'm sure the "Jesus is Lord" party pooper will be there, in which case I think I might walk up and ask, "What are we all doing here?? Why is this festival happening?? Help me understand why they're giving out all this free candy."
Regardless, after my experience with the old party pooper, I know one thing for sure: I'm definitely finished with being the Halloween boycotter who keeps the lights off when kids are trick-or-treating. Maybe I do think that Halloween is a dark, death-obsessed holiday that's toxic for my toddlers, but when that kid with the demonic mask comes to my door, I'm not just going to tell him Jesus loves him - he's getting a handful of Jolly Ranchers.