The Trick in the Treat*

Dr. James Emery White | Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary | Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Trick in the Treat*

I grew up in a day when Halloween was little more than pumpkins, fall festivals, hayrides and dressing up as a pirate or a farmer to go trick-or-treating. That is what it held for my now post-Halloween-age children as well.  As a result, I’ve had a built-in resistance to those Christians who bash October 31st as a pagan festival that followers of Christ have no business supporting, much less engaging.  I know its history, but few celebrations in our day are free of pagan roots, and the idea that donning a costume and receiving a mini-Snicker bar was an invitation to the occult was ludicrous to my thinking.

I still hold to the child-like fun the night can hold, but I no longer view the day itself as innocuous.

For example, in an article in The New York Times titled, “Good Girls Go Bad, For a Day,” Stephanie Rosenbloom writes of the changing nature of women’s Halloween costumes in the last several years.

Little Red Riding Hood, in her thigh-highs and miniskirt does not seem en route to her grandmother’s house. Goldilocks, in a snug bodice and platform heels, gives the impression she has been sleeping in everyone’s bed. And then there is the witch wearing little more than a Laker Girl uniform, a fairy who appears to shop at Victoria’s Secret and a cowgirl with a skirt the size of a – well, you get the point. 

As Rosenbloom notes, the images “are more strip club than storybook.” It’s a wonder, she adds, that “gyms do not have ‘get in shape for Halloween’ specials.”

Of course, experts are often trotted out to speak of this as the “empowering” of women as they embrace their sexuality, and look for deep and positive meanings in the evolution of Cinderella from virgin to vixen. But take a walk through your neighborhood mall’s costume store, as I recently did – mine featured a prominent “no one under 18 allowed without a parent” sign out front – and you can cut through the sociological analysis. 

It is, as comedian Carols Mencia jokes, "Dress-Like-A-Whore day.”

And need I even delve into the gore side of things?

This growing debasement is coupled with another trend: the Christmas-ization of Halloween.  There are now Halloween trees decorated with ghosts and pumpkins, orange lights on houses, and even Halloween displays on lawns. 

In an article in USA Today on how Halloween is getting “Christmassy,” Maria Puente writes that “Halloween … is second only to the December holiday in spending.” Seven in 10 expect to celebrate Halloween in some way, up from six in 10 in 2010. According to the National Retail Federation, in 2011 Americans are planning to spend an average of $72 each on Halloween. Total outlays by consumers are expected to reach $6.86 billion. 

This may be the most insidious dynamic of all. Christmas has already been on a long slide into a secular celebration of emotion divorced from content. But at least the trappings of Christmas pointed us to the promise of meaning. 

Now, through the co-opting of Christmas by Halloween, even that may be lost.

So we string our lights and decorate our trees, and dress as Little Bo “Peep Show” and Miss Foul Play. 

Welcome to the anti-Christmas, and a reminder that we probably missed out on what was really demonic about Halloween all along.

James Emery White

*Editor’s Note: This was first published by Dr. White in 2006.  Facts and figures have been updated for 2011.


Stephanie Rosenbloom, “Good Girls Go Bad, For a Day,” New York Times, Thursday, October 19, 2006, p. E1 and E2.

Maria Puente, “Halloween décor is getting Christmassy,” USA Today, Friday, October 13, 2006, p. D1.


Editor’s Note

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The Trick in the Treat*