The year was 1989, and I was a jack-o'-lantern. Wearing the costume equivalent of footed pajamas and a hat with a stem and felt leaves, I gripped my dad's hand as we walked down the carpeted hallways of our apartment building. I remember the weight of my plastic candy bucket as I held it outstretched toward Frankenstein's monster, witches, and ghosts sporting penny loafers and house slippers. Later that night, I sorted through my sugary loot and decided that Halloween was my favorite day of the year.
The following year, I was a witch. I wore a cape and striped tights. I trick-or-treated with my dad, adjusting my pointy black hat and practicing my cackle before we knocked on each door. I sunk my teeth into spider-shaped cookies alongside my neighborhood friends while our parents chatted and the flicker of crudely carved jack-o'-lanterns cast shadows against the wall. I bobbed for apples with a princess and a Ghostbuster, unaware that this Halloween would be my last.
Something changed in the months that followed. My parents started going to church again. They rededicated their lives to Jesus and became followers of the Word of God. They weren't merely "religious." They became devout. We attended church every Sunday and spent Wednesday nights at prayer meetings. My Disney VHS tapes were replaced by The Greatest Adventure series. My dad started listening to gospel music instead of jazz, and my mom got rid of her Nefertiti necklace in order to adhere to the Second Commandment. They explained that all of this would bring us closer to God, that it would allow for us to guard our ears, our eyes, and our hearts from worldly distractions and sin. Their reignited passion for Jesus meant that I would attend Christian school. It also meant that Halloween was no longer a day of fun. It was unholy, pagan, a doorway to the occult.
Soon after, I started kindergarten at a Fundamentalist Baptist school. I learned the pledge to the Christian flag and memorized Proverbs by writing them in cursive. As September eased into October, there was a division among my classmates: those who would spend the 31st as trick-or-treaters and those who would not. Before that I assumed all Christians had the same stance on Halloween — it was a blasphemous day. When I asked my parents about it, they reminded me that not everyone lives according to God's will. "Their ways are not our ways," my mom said before quoting Philippians 4:8. Despite what they told me, I still didn't see any harm in carving pumpkins or going out to trick-or-treat.
The next day, my dad handed me two cartoon Tracts, "Boo" and "The Devil's Night," telling me in a warm but stern voice, "This is why."
Both books recounted the history of Samhain, an ancient tradition described as "a night of terror," filled with "human sacrifice" and "death demons" that could only be warded off by the light of jack-o'-lanterns. "Satan loves Halloween," read "Boo" "[It] draws little kids into his camp." I put down the comics and sighed. My parents and teachers are right, I thought. Halloween was evil, which meant that I couldn't love it anymore.
For the rest of elementary school, I spent Halloween at late-night worship services. I sang hymns and read Bible verses about righteousness and the importance of being set apart from "the world." When friends offered to share their trick-or-treat candy with me, I declined, using the moment to share with them the true meaning of Halloween. I told them that their deeds glorified the devil and that their actions put them in league with him and his followers. Each year when the streets filled with trick-or-treaters, I silently bowed my head and prayed for their immortal souls. Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.
Despite my pious passion, my distaste for worldly distractions faded as junior high drew nigh. Being a proselytizing outsider since kindergarten had taken its toll on me. After years of Christian school, Bible study, and going to church from sunrise to sunset, I'd had enough. I was tired of being a square and tired of not being able to go to the same movies and listen to the same music as my non-Christian neighborhood friends. The looming threat and immortal danger of secular culture made it all the more fascinating to me and eventually, like the Old Testament's Eve, I reached for the forbidden fruit.