Thoughts on Halloween


A few posts ago, when I mentioned Halloween, Brandy asked: “So, I have a youth pastor friend who is very anti Halloween since it is a pagan (if not outright devil worshipping…I haven’t ever pinned him down on that) holiday. I wondered both your philosophy in celebrating it with your kids and how you explain it to them.”

So I shall answer. 🙂

First, I love that you know that I have a philosophy about this. I have philosophies about EEEEEEEEEVERYTHING. Probably even things I don’t need them about. 🙂

We’ve been studying the Celts in history (perfect timing!) and how they were pagans before (and after) Christianity came to Britain. So in regards to Halloween, we talked about how Christianity conscripted some pagan holidays and combined them with Christian celebrations to make them more palatable to converts. We talked about Celtic traditions of harvest celebrations and fear of evil spirits coming back to earth with the advent of winter, and Catholic traditions of Hallowmas and All Soul’s Day, and how they could fit together. And since I hadn’t done a ton of research, as this whole discussion was the result of a spontaneous question from Zoe, we didn’t talk about how trick or treating possibly comes from the tradition of exchanging soul cakes or the Celtic tradition of dressing up to imitate spirits or fairies. (We will discuss that tomorrow.)

We did talk about how our family considers Halloween to be a time to have fun and to enjoy spooky things without them being scary. I think it’s useful to look at the things that scare us in a way that makes them less intimidating and more accessible. If we can laugh at the boogie man (and yell, “My bugs! My buuuuuuuugs!” at him, like Tiny does), he loses his power to scare us.  So we read books about witches and mummies, skeleton girls,  and things that go bump that are really little sisters sneaking cookies. We watch Mickey Mouse Halloween and Nightmare Before Christmas, and that’s about as spooky as we go. The girls are still little enough that they don’t like outright scary things, and I’ve never been one for using Halloween to revel in horror movies and gross masks and decorations- because I just don’t enjoy those things.  (And they’ve been known to terrify me for weeks and months afterward.) So even when they’re older, we’ll try to stick with spooky over terrifying and gross.

As they get a little older, I’d like to have some sort of family hybrid celebration for Dia de los Muertes, as a way to remember our ancestors, and family that has passed on, but it would be separate from Halloween (as Dia de los Muertes is) , because they’d really be serving different purposes. Maybe we’ll mix in some of the Japanese Obon Festival, which also honors the dead. We’ll see when we get there, I suppose.

They don’t really do trick-or-treating here in Japan, so we will go to the church Halloween party and trick or treat there. Zoe wants to be Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service, and today Tiny wants to be a witch (that is not Kiki). She keeps changing her mind, so I’m not making her dress yet.  There are Halloween decorations in some stores, you can buy Halloween themed candy, and there are  Halloween themed toys, and attractions at Disneyland.

According to this article,  Halloween here is focused on cute over scary and dead (they leave that for Obon season, when they tell scary stories).   There’s even two words for ghost- obake, which are cute ghosts, and yurei, which are terrifying, vengeance seeking scary ghosts. Halloween gets obake and merchandising, Oban gets yurei and festivals honoring the dead.

Although, doing some other reading, obake don’t seem to always be cute; instead they’re creatures that have shifted from the natural world to the supernatural. So they can be cute, but they can also be really weird. And I have discovered that there is a book on Japanese folklore called Yokaidangi, or, Lectures on Monsters, by Kunio Yanagita, that I can only pray has been translated into English, because this stuff is FASCINATING. (Apparently, among the things that Yanagita, the father of Japanese native folkloristics, discovered is that “ the distribution of dialects for the word snail forms concentric circles on the Japanese archipelago.”  Hrrrrr? This is the sound of my brain breaking as we fall down this particular internet rabbit hole.)


(photo from

ANYWAY. Back to Halloween. I will probably be reading Heart-Shaped Box and Deathbird Stories, and The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All this month, because while I don’t like horror movies, I don’t mind some scary stories. The girls will do their Halloween missions, we will listen to spooky music and talk about why it’s spooky (another spontaneous question by Zoe today), and the girls will plan out ways to make our house look haunted that they will not follow through with. 🙂

And that’s Halloween at our house.


2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Halloween

  1. Brandy on

    I’ve known you for YEARS…of course you have a philosophy 🙂

    Thanks for the explanation; there is a big evangelical Christian movement which you may or may not be aware of to co-op Halloween and replace it with a generic “Harvest Celebration” which has always rubbed me the wrong way since, at least in America, we already have a harvest celebration, Thanksgiving. I love the idea of looking at things that scare us, and I’ve also created some Day of the Dead altars since my dear friend Susy passed away in 2007.

    I find you wonderful!

  2. Gail Follansbee on

    From the time my daughter started grade school, she always asked to throw a Halloween party for her friends. The parties were always epic- always fun based with a little scary thrown in. We did traditional things like bobbing for apples, games like Wrap the Mummy (done with rolls of toilet paper) and the year we created a haunted house in our tiny cottage.
    The year that she was 10, the party fell on November 1st. Since this is the Dios De Los Meurtes, she decided that she wanted to theme the party that way instead of as a Halloween party. We went to the library and checked out a bunch of books and did our research. We made skeleton decorations, created a Mexican food menu and boned up on Day of the Dead traditions. At the party we made skull shaped cookies and tried to make sugar skulls (with only partial success), made wreaths of marigolds and ended the evening with telling stories around a fire in the chiminea about people (and pets) that we knew who had died. Not all 10 year olds have experienced death of a loved one yet, but all were introspective and moved. That party was talked about by her friends for years-

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