Mormon Halloween: Its Origin and Destiny

October 27, 2008 | 52 comments
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I’m not sure whether or not Halloween is actually “Mormon” to any significant degree. Mormons generally participate in the holiday here in the U.S., of course. And we even have a few requirements of the holiday in a Church setting — for example, we don’t allow masks at Church-sponsored Halloween events. But I don’t think that these facts quite give us a Mormon Halloween.

Perhaps what we need is a good, Mormon-specific monster!

Halloween costumes seem to fall into a few different types, from what I can tell. There are monsters, angels and other “good” characters, superheroes and other comic-book characters, actual people (politicians and celebrities mostly) and, finally, representational characters (e.g., my son was a chess board one Halloween).

But I’ve never seen a Mormon-related character. Now, I don’t live in Utah, so perhaps I’ve just not been in the right place. Do they sell costumes of the Apostles there? Can my 5-year-old buy a costume of President Monson? (probably not, how would you do it without a mask?)

I also wonder, would a Mormon character have to be only good? Sure we could somehow do the three Nephites or Nephi or Captain Moroni or something, but who are the bad guys? The devil, I suppose (but he’d have to be radically different — no horns, and represented as non-corporeal somehow) or perhaps King Noah.

In this dispensation, we have a few boogeymen that might fith the bill — certainly the mobs from the middle 1800s, and the Federal Marshalls from the days of polygamy. Then by the 20th century, the polygamists actually became the boogeymen somehow. I don’t know who you would include today — Evangelicals? Anti-mormons? Those guys that put floride in the water? (GRIN)

I’m not sure who Mormons are afraid of nowadays (please don’t give me the doctrinal saw that we don’t need to fear anyone — people are afraid anyway — or suggest that our biggest fear is sin — what kind of Halloween costume would that make?), so perhaps it would be better if we came up with our own Mormon superheroes. But then again, what superpower would a Mormon superhero have? Super Faith?

I’m sure we Mormons could put a lot of fun creativity into this. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll see kids dressed up as Gladys Knight and Donny Osmond ringing our doorbells on Friday.

If that happens, I’ll have to pull by tongue out of my cheek in order to give a little chuckle and fill their bags with candy.

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52 Responses to Mormon Halloween: Its Origin and Destiny

  1. oops on October 27, 2008 at 3:39 am

    A girl at work and some of her girlfriends and gay guy friends are dressing up as polygamous wives. (I work in SLC.) Should be fun.

  2. Michelle Glauser on October 27, 2008 at 7:05 am

    My sister told me that there were two guys dressed up like Mormon missionaries at the Google Halloween party last year.

  3. Michelle Glauser on October 27, 2008 at 7:06 am

    My sister told me that there were two guys dressed up like Mormon missionaries at the Google Halloween party last year. Apparently they had a spiel and everything. When they found out there were real Mormons there, they were too afraid to talk to them and avoided them all night.

  4. Mel S on October 27, 2008 at 8:44 am

    Missionaries at our ward dressed up as a Book of Mormon at a Trunk or Treat a few years ago. I’ll bet dressing as the harlot Isabel probably wouldn’t fly though.

  5. anita on October 27, 2008 at 8:47 am

    i remember three teenage guys once being the 3 nephites–normal clothes and just a sign around their necks.
    and i’ve seen a great photo circulated by email a couple years ago of a guy who was angel moroni, gold paint and everything.

  6. don on October 27, 2008 at 8:51 am

    Why do we need a \”Mormon\” Halloween?

  7. Bro. Jones on October 27, 2008 at 8:55 am

    Oh no, the thought of kids dressed up in blackface as Gladys Knight is too much to bear. (Yes, I am suggesting that some Mormons are unimaginative enough to resort to blackface.)

  8. Jettboy on October 27, 2008 at 9:09 am

    I have been toying with the idea that Halloween is antethical to Mormonism. That isn’t because I don’t love the holiday, because I find it fun with candy, dressup, and the general ability to use your imagination. However, I know enough Mormons who really don’t like it that there must be something in LDS culture or beliefs to cause that dislike. The “monster” of Halloween for a small but significant number of Mormons is the holliday itself. A thesis hasn’t even begun because of my personal distance from the attitude.

  9. Kathryn Lynard Soper on October 27, 2008 at 9:18 am
  10. Russell Arben Fox on October 27, 2008 at 9:28 am

    Darn, Kathryn beat me to it.

  11. dangermom on October 27, 2008 at 9:55 am

    Jettboy, IMO that dislike is probably largely picked up from evangelicals who believe that Halloween is a satanic holiday. I saw something similar with Harry Potter a few years back; although most Mormons saw nothing wrong with it (besides over-hype) some had heard that it promoted witchcraft and satanism and were worried or wouldn’t let their kids read it. I don’t remember hearing nearly so much about Halloween and evil 25 years ago, from anyone; did that idea spread a lot more in the past few decades?

    And then some people just don’t care for dressing up in scary costumes and begging for candy. ;) Actually, in our family we don’t do gory or scary costumes, but with two little girls we’ve never needed to enforce the policy, either.

  12. Peter LLC on October 27, 2008 at 10:06 am

    I reckon a Mormon Halloween ought to involve white shirts and/or tasseled loafers to reflect its constituency.

  13. Frank McIntyre on October 27, 2008 at 10:13 am

    In Palo Alto, the Bishop’s family came dressed as giant chess pieces. Naturally, the Bishop was dressed in a suit and tie. That one was pretty good.

    “sin — what kind of Halloween costume would that make?”

    I don’t know, but I think it would be pretty awesome.

  14. bfwebster on October 27, 2008 at 10:14 am

    When I was a teenager, we had a pumpkin carving activity at Mutual the week of Halloween. I carved a fairly normal jack o’ lantern, then used some tin foil and red paint to form a cigar, which I put in the pumpkin’s mouth.

    It was a Jack o’ Mormon.

    Forty years later, I’m still unduly proud of that. ..bruce..

  15. bfwebster on October 27, 2008 at 10:19 am

    My wife talks about a ward Halloween party in her ward a few years before she and I got married. One family — with several children — all came dressed up as hogs. The semi-scandalous part was that the wife’s costume had eight teats (two rows of four each) going down the front of the costume. My wife still thinks that’s the best costume she’s ever seen at an LDS party. ..bruce..

  16. Kevin Barney on October 27, 2008 at 10:48 am

    I’m glad that we Mormons are more pragmatic than most conservative Christians about things like Halloween and largely let it be. I love the holiday.

    Our ward had its Halloween party last Saturday. It wasn’t billed as a Fall Harvest party or anything like that, but a Halloween party. And one of the elders dressed up as that dark sith lord (the red one with the horns played by Ray somebody; I forget what his name was in the movie), and he was awesome, just like Santa Claus at the Xmas party, with kids getting their pictures taken with him.

    It’s true that Mormons don’t have anything quite like Purim in their own tradition, but isn’t trunk-or-treat a pretty strongly represented cultural variant? And at our ward parties we always feature chili and fritos so people can make frito pies; do other wards do that or is that just us?

  17. Wm Morris on October 27, 2008 at 10:53 am

    Part of me wants the Mormon tradition of Halloween to stay as secular is it normally is among U.S. LDS. I’m afraid that if we take it more seriously, we’ll end up going the Evangelical route and end up with hell houses and the like.

    But part of me yearns for some authentic Mormon spin on it (with some nods to its pagan roots). A reminder that the harvest is over and winter is coming and all things are corruptible and die. That spirits do walk the earth and there is no place for them in our community — we must scare them away.

    ——

    When I was a kid our family would all go down to the elementary school for games and treats. And then my parents would walk us home on a very specific route. We wouldn’t trick-or-treat every house (there were families who would try to hit every single house in Kanab AND Fredonia — they’d end up with pillowcases filled with candy). Rather, we’d visit a bunch of old people that my parents knew (most of whom weren’t in the our ward so this was the one time a year we’d visit them) as well as a few relatives. We’d always be invited in to show off our costumes and have a drink of cider. The adults would talk for 5-10 minutes and then we’d be off to the next house. It was a very civilized way of trick-or-treating and helped us kids understand that our community of faith was more than the people we saw at sacrament meeting.

  18. Wm Morris on October 27, 2008 at 10:56 am

    What’s with the Fall Harvest party thing? That’s what our current ward did. As far as I could tell it wasn’t any different from the Halloween party we would do in our old ward (and yes, complete with trunk-or-treat).

  19. queuno on October 27, 2008 at 10:56 am

    I went as White Trash one year for a work party. (White teeshirt, clumps of crumpled paper taped to it, white wastebasket).

    Our ward gave the speech to the youth this year in advance of trunk-or-treat that they were to adhere to all dress and grooming standards in their costumes, including (and specifically) no cross-dressing.

  20. queuno on October 27, 2008 at 10:57 am

    My wife made me recycle my cap and gown and hood from my Master’s graduation that fall. Seems like we needed to get some use out of it.

  21. John Buffington on October 27, 2008 at 11:00 am

    We just had our ward Trunk or Treat on Saturday; in keeping with the LDS theme, I was going to go as Harry Reid, but I didn’t want to scare the adults.

    Opted for a vampire costume (I called it Jacob Black, incognito) instead.

  22. Kathryn Lynard Soper on October 27, 2008 at 11:02 am

    bruce, you made my day.

    A husband and wife once showed up to a Halloween party in my former ward draped in sheets. The signs they carried introduced them as “Bull Sheet” and “Holy Sheet.”

    Predictably, the joke didn’t go over too well.

    “sin — what kind of Halloween costume would that make?”

    That’s easy–just take a gander at the slut versions of traditional costumes they now offer for tween girls (and younger!)

    Or, consider the aftermath of the frito pies…

  23. John Buffington on October 27, 2008 at 11:03 am

    Queno

    Bummer on the cross-dressing rules; I also considered going in my cap and gown with my son (14) in a dress. We would have been “the professor and Mary-Ann”

  24. queuno on October 27, 2008 at 11:04 am

    We could always reenact Joseph Smith’s tarring and feathering, the burning of the homes in Nauvoo, Haun’s Mill, and MMM, if we want a truly authentic Mormon Halloween…

  25. Russell Arben Fox on October 27, 2008 at 11:05 am

    A reminder that the harvest is over and winter is coming and all things are corruptible and die. That spirits do walk the earth and there is no place for them in our community — we must scare them away.

    I agree fully, William.

    My fondest memories of Halloween while growing up was visiting my grandmother’s house after we’d finished with our trick-or-treating. She’d have donuts and milk waiting for us. After an evening of snitching Tootsie-Rolls out of my plastic pumpkin, something substantive like that was wonderful. It didn’t hurt that they lived up on a hill, where the mist would often gather as night came on. It was wonderful.

  26. queuno on October 27, 2008 at 11:22 am

    We’ve drawn a fairly strict line in our ward on cross-dressing in recent years. Although, the best cross-dressers were always children of bishops, in my experience (dating back to high school)…

  27. Keri Brooks on October 27, 2008 at 11:33 am

    Maybe I’m just a party pooper, but Halloween doesn’t really appeal to me. I’m not anti-Halloween; I just don’t care about it. It was fun when I was a kid, and maybe it’ll be fun again when I have kids. My ward does a pizza potluck trunk-or-treat.

  28. Researcher on October 27, 2008 at 11:49 am

    Our ward is skipping the trunk or treat this year in favor of a family rodeo the day after Halloween. Chili and cornbread but no fritos. I don’t know their reasoning and I really don’t care one way or the other.

    I know some people who refuse to read the Harry Potter books. They’re always agitating to skip Halloween, too. But I draw the line at skipping Halloween. Like I said, I don’t care one way or the other, but skipping it would be too, shall we say, Jehovah’s Witness. Next thing we would be skipping Christmas and birthdays. So we continue to celebrate Halloween. It’s the line I’ve drawn in the sand.

  29. dangermom on October 27, 2008 at 11:57 am

    I don’t approve of trunk-or-treats or harvest festivals, whatever, on Halloween itself. They’re fine on other days, but one of my favorite things about Halloween is what a neighborhood holiday it is. Everyone is out, talking and being friendly, and I simply won’t miss it. Really I think being present in my own community and participating in the neighborhood celebration is far more in the spirit of the gospel than going to a closed party is. And I hate how Halloween is being slowly turned into a private party holiday rather than a community holiday.

    So for the past two years we have skipped the stake trunk-or-treat to stay home and answer the doorbell and go trick-or-treating on our own streets. This year the stake isn’t having one, yay! But if they would just schedule it on the day before, it would be fine.

  30. donY on October 27, 2008 at 12:14 pm

    How about a white sheet with holes all over it – the holy ghost.

    Is it wrong to dress up as a member of the Godhead?

  31. Jettboy on October 27, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    dangermom, I agree with everything you just said. However, I think there is a practical and regrettable reason for the change. The world is becoming the horror that Halloween is supposed to make fun out of. There are true sickos and monsters out there that have become blatantly evil. There has been more than enough cases of poisoned, spiked, or otherwise harmful treats. Kidnappings and worse are on everyone’s minds. It used to be, even for someone as young as me, fine to go trick or treat all alone as a kid. Within a few years parents felt safe taking kids to houses. Currently, even in small communities there is a sense that trick or treating to neighbor’s houses that you hardly if at all know can be dangerous.

    Trunk-or-treat was a non-Mormon activity that started as a response to these worries. It has been picked up by Mormons for some reason I have not been able to fully comprehend. It does create an insulation that I am not fond of perpetuating. Yes, I stay home to give out candy at my door. No,I don’t think those who wish to not participate have to answer their doors.

  32. dangermom on October 27, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    But Jettboy, that perception isn’t very true. There *haven’t* been all those cases of poisoned treats–and when there were, it has usually turned out to be a family member. May I direct you to Snopes’ Halloween candy website? Every year, parents freak out about poisoned candy–every year, the hospitals x-ray candy–and every year, the x-rays don’t turn up much of anything. Please find me a confirmed, real case of a random neighborhood candy poisoning. I would love to see it, and if the world is truly becoming that evil, it shouldn’t be hard to find–there should be lots of them if you are right.

    And, even worse, the perception that closed parties are safer is not correct. That mad candy-poisoner might just as well be a ward member. And Saturday night, I went to a trunk-or-treat in my SIL’s stake–there was a security guard in the driveway–and a homeless guy or two wandering the crowd. I don’t object to the homeless guys (I work in a public library, I’ve seen way worse), but that party was *effectively* just as open as a neighborhood free-for-all, only no one realized it.

  33. Wm Morris on October 27, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    Although I don’t dispute the general portrait of Halloween that Jettboy outlines in #31, I do want to note that the tainted treats fear is, for the most part, based on urban legend.

    Snope on Halloween poisonings (not true) and on pins, razor blades, etc. in treats (somewhat true, but generally overblown).

  34. Wm Morris on October 27, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    Ah, dangermom beat me to it.

  35. Kent Larsen on October 27, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    Don (6):

    Apparently, you didn’t notice the line “If that happens, I’ll have to pull by tongue out of my cheek…”

    While I think that we could probably use more Mormon-specific holidays, I was NOT suggesting that we have to have a Mormon-specific Halloween. The whole post was tongue in cheek.

    Let’s have some fun sometimes!

  36. Norbert on October 27, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    Amen, dangermom. As RAF has said, the cool thing about Halloween is its communal nature. We should be out there mixing it up with the neighbors.

  37. Kent Larsen on October 27, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    Queuno (24):

    You may be right. For the amount we talk about the early Mormon experience these days, the mobs of the day might well be the scariest monsters in Mormon culture.

    Of course, I’m quite sure that for many years most Mormons would have found the Federal Marshalls of the late 1800s the scariest boogeyman.

    Now, as for modern-day scary figures, perhaps someone will dress as Jerald and Sandra Tanner or someone in that crowd.

  38. SingleSpeed on October 27, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    I\’m not sure I\’ve ever been to an LDS halloween party without at least a few people showing up dressed as \”mormon pioneers\” or \”Emma Smith.\”

  39. Jonovitch on October 27, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    FYI, you might actually want to check your kids’ candy this year for gold-foil chocolate coins:
    http://www.snopes.com/food/warnings/coins.asp

    Jon

  40. amanda on October 27, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    Maybe I’m missing something really obvious but why is cross-dressing such a no-no for ward parties? A girl in my ward is dressing up as a teenage boy, complete with skinny jeans and hair in her eyes….I think it’s funny!

  41. Jonovitch on October 27, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    Luckily, zero pictures were taken, but when I was 14 I went to a Halloween party (of all Mormon kids) dressed as a girl. I squeezed into one of my mom’s old dresses (with shoulder pads in front), and I had quite a bit of hair at the time, so my older sister gave me curls and did all my makeup. My friend’s older brother did a triple take when he saw me. It was awesome.

    I probably couldn’t get away with it anymore, being Scoutmaster and all. A couple years ago, I made a great Obi-wan costume with a dark brown robe and a natural-colored tunic. My little boy was Yoda. That was awesome, too. And yes, I do have pictures of that. Maybe I’ll post a couple on my blog this week.

    Jon

  42. bobaagard on October 27, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    My Mission Companion and I went out to dinner on Halloween evening as a special treat. The establishment gave a 20% discount that night if you came in costume. Out waiter was very convinced that we were in costume (despite our pleadings otherwise), and even said “Mormon Missionaries is the best costume ever!”

    We left a sizable tip and a copy of the Book of Mormon.

  43. JWL on October 27, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    If an Angel Moroni Statue costume is the best Mormon costume ever, how about an actual Angel Moroni costume? The specs are found in holy writ:

    “He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond anything earthly I had ever seen; nor do I believe that any earthly thing could be made to appear so exceedingly white and brilliant. His hands were naked, and his arms also, a little above the wrist; so, also, were his feet naked, as were his legs, a little above the ankles. His head and neck were also bare. I could discover that he had no other clothing on but this robe, as it was open, so that I could see into his bosom.” Joseph Smith History 1:31

  44. Kent Larsen on October 27, 2008 at 6:55 pm

    I don’t know, JWL, the “I could discover that he had no other clothing on but this robe” is likely to make most Mormons uncomfortable (except, perhaps for the nudity crowd).

    And somehow, I suspect that fact could get you in trouble in most LDS wards.

  45. Katie M. on October 27, 2008 at 9:23 pm

    It seems like all the wards I\’ve been in have prohibitions on wearing any type of mask to their Halloween parties. I\’ve never understood the rationale behind this policy. Does anyone know?

  46. Marianne on October 27, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    I doubt it’s the girls dressing as boys that has put the damper on no cross-dressing in some wards. I’m sure that some are much more worried that their boys will put on dresses and makeup and enhance their anatomy, and like it.

    And then where would they be?

  47. dangermom on October 27, 2008 at 9:56 pm

    Katie, AFAIK it’s a safety thing. Masks obscure vision, and they hide the face so it’s hard to tell who everyone is. Between the kids smacking into sharp corners and the weirdos trying to sneak in, it’s just a fairly standard safety measure for any large gathering.

  48. Western Dave on October 27, 2008 at 11:30 pm

    I confess to having gone to a Halloween party as a missionary. My friend and I were last minute invites to a party. We were new in town both having recently relocated from Ann Arbor where both of us studied LDS, him in literature and me in History.. We needed costumes quick and both owning white shirts and skinny black ties and Books of Mormon, well, it did the trick. My wife refused to dress-up and got away with it, though another friend who was part of the last minute invite was dressed at the party in lederhosen. Religion was the theme of the evening. There were tons of ministers, monks, and nuns (cross-dressed) at the party. I’ve always had mixed feelings about this. I wouldn’t be mad if someone dressed up as a Hasidic Jew but then again, my family left that group for reform Judaism two generations ago. Blackface crosses a line; but was what I doing – Saintsface? I probably wouldn’t have done it if I had more than an hour to plan a costume. Your thoughts?

  49. WillF on October 28, 2008 at 12:14 am

    Here’s an idea: hand out pass-a-long cards this year instead of candy. Too bad there aren’t any Halloween themed ones.

  50. WillF on October 28, 2008 at 12:20 am

    If there was a Halloween pass-along card, maybe it could just have the lyrics to Sweet Is the Peace the Gospel Brings, and a message inviting you to call a number to get a free hymnbook and a genuine full-size candy bar (brought by the missionaries).

  51. observer from afar on October 28, 2008 at 9:05 am

    Interesting article. I know other churches that make it specific: no masks, no witch, devil or demon costumes.

    However, Kent, you are perpetuating something that\’s not quite correct. Halloween is not a holiday. I once worked in a school where a teacher told the children that a very special holiday was coming up: Halloween! In another school, a teacher used Christmas tunes to sing Halloween songs (Deck the halls with lots of pumpkins, etc). BUT the school was not allowed to use \”Christmas\” — just Winter Festival or Seasonal Holiday. Amazing.

    Enjoy Halloween for what it is: a fun night. Let\’s not get so serious. (It was a Celtic holiday, the day before the Celtic new year on November 1st)

  52. Alex Valencic on October 29, 2008 at 8:26 pm

    (49) I know of people who hand out pass-along cards with the candy. Everyone who gets them is just as annoyed as they are with the evangelicals who hand out their little comic books about being saved by grace. IMO, Halloween, despite being a holiday rooted in Paganism and transformed by Catholicism, has become a relatively secular holiday, and whenever a person tries to throw in some kind of religiosity into it, it just annoys people out to have fun and load up on processed sugars.

    As far as the question as to what “sin” would look like, wouldn’t it just be a continuous curve with a period of 360 degrees, with an amplitude of 1, that passes through the point of origin?

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