Halloween plays a trick on Sabbath observance

October 5, 2010 | 29 comments
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photo credit Rasmus Thomsen

photo credit Rasmus Thomsen

In October a young kid’s fancy swiftly turns to thoughts of treats. With four young kids in our home, you can guess what’s on our minds lately. At our house we celebrate a thoroughly domesticated Halloween, with no concerns about satanism or sugar, just plenty of candy corn and friendly ghosts and homely, homemade costumes. And trick-or-treating. But this year the calendar plays a trick on us: Halloween falls on a Sunday.

We observe the Sabbath in a fairly rigorous but, I hope, joyful and worshipful way: we commune at Church, and we rest, read, play, walk, bike, share food and music, and make occasional family expeditions during the rest of the day. We don’t shop, swim, sport, party, or work (beyond the necessities) on Sundays. This is a fairly arbitrary regimen, and other Christians surely draw their lines in different places, but that’s how the Sabbath visits our home. We want Sunday to be a day of joy for our children, but we also want it to arrive with a reverent presence.

So how does trick-or-treating fit in? On the one hand, it’s a lot like a party with costumes and candy and lots of raucous, secular fun. Some families in our ward have decided that they won’t trick-or-treat on the 31st, and are planning a substitute costume-and-candy activity on Saturday night. That’s a sabbatarian position I can respect.

But I think there’s a communitarian argument to be made in favor of Sunday trick-or-treating. If the Sabbath is a day set apart for the Lord’s work, then strengthening community ties of trust and friendship should be a priority. And when it comes to family-inclusive, community-building rituals, it’s hard to top trick-or-treating. Walk with the kids through the festive streets, exchange happy greetings with friends and acquaintances of all ages and backgrounds, visit the best annual Halloween displays on the block—and do it all in the embrace of a protected, set-apart time when the rules of daily life are suspended for a joyful period not unlike, dare I say, the Sabbath itself. Halloween is the most neighborly of all American holidays, transforming even the most backyard-oriented subdivision into a lively front-porch community, at least for a night.

So I’m not sure what we’ll do. Both positions recommend themselves to me—and in the end, of course, it’s not a decision of huge moral importance. But it does raise interesting questions about the meaning of Sabbath observance, and, beyond that, about the proper relation of Christian observance to the larger community. Comment on the larger issues,  by all means, but what I really want to know: will you trick-or-treat on the 31st?

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29 Responses to Halloween plays a trick on Sabbath observance

  1. Ben Orchard on October 5, 2010 at 10:15 am

    My feeling is that we will let our boys go on Sunday.

    I should also note that we have the additional complication of son#2 being born on Halloween. I think we should have waited a day….

    (Although at the time, my wife wasn’t into *waiting*…)

  2. Julie M. Smith on October 5, 2010 at 10:19 am

    Yeah, that’s a tough one. You articulate the case for both positions very well. I’m not sure what we will do yet.

  3. Clark on October 5, 2010 at 10:37 am

    Hmm. I missed that. It’ll be interesting to see what the ward does and how the many non-members in our area react.

  4. CJ on October 5, 2010 at 10:42 am

    My wife and I decided we’ll do the trunk or treat with the ward the night before and then make the rounds with our close nearby neighbors on Halloween because we wanted to make sure we were friendly to our neighbors. But we only have a son who is 2 years old. I’m not sure what we’ll do when Halloween falls on the Sabbath again.

  5. Jonathan Green on October 5, 2010 at 10:43 am

    On past Halloween Sundays, our ward has sponsored a Saturday evening activity so that the kids can fill their sacks with candy, and we’ve passed out candy to trick-or-treaters on the 31st as part of our community obligations, but our kids have stayed home. That seems like a reasonable compromise to me.

    This year it won’t be a problem for us, though, as the town has declared the 30th as the official trick-or-treating evening. That’s not a terribly uncommon solution in smaller towns in some parts of the U.S.

  6. kfr on October 5, 2010 at 10:43 am

    I am leaning towards attending the ward party on the 30th, then giving out candy to the neighborhood kids on the 31st.
    In the past when we were out going door to door on halloween, we didn’t see many of the neighbors (are they off in another neighborhood? maybe) So I think we will leave our lights on, greet the trick or treating children, admire their costumes and give them candy. Maybe our family will have some hot cider and pumpkin cookies while we are home together giving out treats.

  7. Sally on October 5, 2010 at 10:53 am

    We also in the past have done trunk or treat on Sat. night then stayed home and passed out candy on Sunday. The kids also went trick or treating Sat night to some member homes. They still got to do Halloween while respecting the Sabbath. While I see your point of joining in with the community, it is only once every seven years. I just found it hard to explain to the kids why we could make exceptions for some things but not others so we tried to stay consistant.

  8. Kent Larsen on October 5, 2010 at 10:58 am

    I love your point about the community-building nature of Halloween. No other U. S. holiday influences members of the community to participate in the holiday so much. Every other holiday you can hide at home with the door closed, and no one will bother you. On Halloween, kids knock.

  9. Paul on October 5, 2010 at 11:42 am

    Our kids will trick or treat through our immediate neighborhood on Sunday — it’s a great chance for us to catch up with our neighbors and greet newcomers to the subdivision. Our kids will also stock up on candy at the ward trunk-or-treat on Saturday night. Our kids will also be giving dad a hefty “candy tax”… (My favorite part!)

  10. Bree on October 5, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    So interesting I’ve never thought about it like that. I do think it is a great teaching example to our kids on keeping the sabbath day holy- to them its a sacrifice for heavenly father- and I think it would be hard but help them learn for when harder decisions come into their lives. Im activities committee chair in our ward and were doing a trunk or treat the week before. I like the idea of going to a few close neighbors houses. I live in Canada- but I keep thinking about utah where I grew up if no kids go out will all the other kids feel weird- i see the point on building a strong community and like it- hard decision….

  11. Russell Arben Fox on October 5, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    Jonathan,

    This year it won’t be a problem for us, though, as the town has declared the 30th as the official trick-or-treating evening. That’s not a terribly uncommon solution in smaller towns in some parts of the U.S.

    That’s how things worked for us when we were living in Jonesboro, Arkansas, years ago when the holiday last fell on a Sunday. Chalk one up for towns with clear majorities and de-facto established civil religions (ours was Southern Baptist); at the very least, it makes celebrating Halloween a lot easier.

  12. Thaddeus on October 5, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    Looking at Halloween as “community-building” is all well and good for the adults, but kids aren’t so interested in that. It’s always a night of party and candy, scary costumes and mischief (aided by obscured identity). God is the furthest thing from your mind when you’re wearing a werewolf mask. Trying to mix Sabbath and Halloween for the children might be too much of a stretch.

    It is a little ironic that we’re having this discussion, given that Halloween was originally part of the Christian liturgical calendar.

  13. Thaddeus on October 5, 2010 at 4:10 pm
  14. dangermom on October 5, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    I’ve been thinking about this too, as the friendly neighborhood part of Halloween is my favorite part. Don’t know yet what we’ll do.

  15. Lori on October 5, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    In the small southern town where I live in Mississippi, even celebrating Halloween is forbidden by most churches. They hold their own “Fall Festivals” with pumpkins, hay and scarecrows, but no evil witches, ghosts or goblins. When my children attended a church-sponsored pre-school we got a 2 page flyer explaining why Halloween was evil and there were to be no Halloween related items in the school, nor costumes (though they could dress up as something nice).

    It’s actually the same thing in the public schools. We aren’t allowed to do Halloween activities. They must be related to fall only.

    So, trick or treating is rather limited here. The few neighborhoods that do it get overwhelmed by those parents, like us, who still like to celebrate that way. We’ve had fewer than a handful of trick or treaters come to our door in the seven years we have lived here. So, I’ve taken to buying our own candy and distributing it myself to my kids.

    Sad.

  16. el oso on October 5, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    We have had non-Oct. 31st Halloween in several towns where we have lived. In some areas, they even had rival Sat. or Fri. night celebrations so you could drive your kids to the next town and get twice the candy.
    It has been 7 years since we lived in a prime trick-or-treat neighborhood, so we just go out whenever the best time is for us. This will be the third year in a row that we will have a combined ward trunk or treat on a weekend. The kids get too much candy at that and do not need to go anywhere else. That’s cool.

  17. Clark on October 5, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    I remember a poll somewhere that kids liked Halloween even more than Christmas. A town with no Halloween. That’s pretty sad.

  18. Alison Moore Smith on October 5, 2010 at 8:47 pm

    When Halloween fell on Sunday when we lived in Florida, we did not trick or treat on Sunday. Instead, we planned a ward trunk or treat on Saturday, took the kids to a few Halloween activities during the week (like a library activity), etc. Then, on Halloween, we still dressed up and passed out candy to the neighbors.

    In most places I’ve lived in Utah, the trick or treating mostly happens on the Saturday before. That didn’t happen in Boca — at least in part because it’s mostly Jewish. :)

  19. Kristine on October 5, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    I am (unsurprisingly) more persuaded by the communitarian argument. My children, though, influenced by their Pharasaical peers (:)) want me to drive them around to other Mormons’ houses on Saturday. ugh.

  20. Steve on October 6, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    One of the possible solutions being bandied about in our ward is to have the kids stay in Sunday night, but still hand out candy at the door to whomever might come and whenever someone comes to the door, the kids get to dish out the candy both to the TorT’s and themselves (i.e., one for you, one for me) and keep it for themselves in a separate bowl.

  21. kik~ on October 6, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    I liked this post and the replies. I think I would lean toward Halloween party on Saturday, hand out candy on Sunday. I too love the neighborhood vibes.

    This thread brings up a question I always have irt Sabbath activities. It seems like members always say they don’t let their kiddos go to birthday parties on Sunday. I wonder why not. Isn’t is similar to visiting friends?

  22. Kenzo on October 6, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    We have wondered the same thing re: Sunday birthday parties. Since we allow get-togethers with adult family friends on Sundays, it seems wrong not to let the kids do the same. Our policy: no to Sunday parties at a mall, mini-golf course, etc. (analogous to Sunday shopping or sport), yes to Sunday parties at homes (analogous to a friend visit).

    Sunday trick-or-treating gets in by the same exemption: we go with neighborhood friends. I don’t want to give me kids the impression that the only criterion for Sunday activities be that they’re no fun.

  23. Katie M. on October 7, 2010 at 9:18 am

    I’ve never understood why swimming on Sunday always gets put on the verboten list. Walking? Yes. Biking. Yes. Swimming? Heck no! Does the water extinguish the flame of the Spirit or is it because Satan rides upon the waters of our pools?

  24. Heather on October 7, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Which do you love more, the Lord or Halloween? Rationalize it anyway you will but I am betting your neighbors know your religion and will be watching your example. Your sabbath day observance shows your devotion to the Lord, or your lack of it. If you are itching for a neighborly get together you can sponsor one any other day of the week. You can talk to your neighbors about your commitment to the Lord and ask how they would feel about Saturday trick or treating. This dilemma of what to do seems ridiculous. If you are already committed to the Lord then there is not dilemma.

  25. Dave K. on October 7, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    We are letting our kids go trick-or-treating so long as they are dressed as missionaries. We are also handing out pass-along cards instead of candy. …. I kid.

  26. liz on October 8, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    The juxtaposition of Heather’s comment with Dave’s is making me giggle. We just moved to Chile, and in a country where people are fairly reserved, and thus not terribly neighborly (especially to gringoes), we can’t pass up the opportunity to be out, hopefully meeting people and increasing the odds that we might make some new friends. Our kids are certainly not going to be running wild, doing mischief. It will be a low-key family-centered occasion. And I’ll probably discuss this very dilemma with my older kids, since it seems a perfect teaching moment. P.S. Rosalynde, I just noticed you were the author of this post — do you remember me from the summer we lived in that funny house behind the gas station?

  27. Lyndee on October 9, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    Last year was the first time that I felt a sense of community on Halloween, watching the cluster of children (parent in tow) knock from one door to the next. It truly was a magical feeling for me. I still don’t know what my family will do this Halloween. I think, to be honest, I’ll leave it up to my kids. Our family is new to the area and I would LOVE the chance to knock on a few of their doors with a good excuse and introduce myself. And we will most definitely have someone handing out our candy on Sunday.

  28. Lizzie Bear on October 12, 2010 at 11:33 am

    If the treats are bible tracts or similar, it should be fine to do it on Sunday.

  29. Abbey Road on October 15, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    Seriously, Heather? Seriously? Wow.

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