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October 30, 2021

Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, created the Grinch.

During the difficult days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Clare and I are doing what we can to help those in need. Each week in this space, I will ask you to consider supporting one of the local nonprofit agencies that offer critical care in our community. This week, please volunteer for, or donate, as you are able, to HALTER. This non-profit agency provides services to over 300 children each year. These are children who have physical, cognitive, emotional/behavioral conditions. The HALTER equestrian facility in Spartanburg County, South Carolina is located at The South Carolina School For the Deaf And The Blind, 1400 Carolina Country Club Road, Spartanburg, South Carolina, 29302, (864) 586-1671.

When I was a boy, before the Grinch almost stole Halloween, October 31 was one of the most anticipated evenings of the year. My friends and I looked forward to the carnival at the elementary school we attended. Halloween was second only to Christmas Eve when excitement, for kids, permeated the night air. No sooner had the sun gone down on the last day of October than costumed kids of every age flooded the streets of the neighborhood, knocking on doors and shouting, “Trick or treat!”

The weather here in the Upstate can vary from year to year on Halloween night. Could anything be more uncomfortable and itchier than a Smokey Bear costume on a warm, rainy evening?  Imagine a Little Mermaid outfit on a cold, frosty stroll around the neighborhood in the night air.

Parents escorting their children is always a good idea. The adults stand a few yards away, guardian angels watching over tiny gremlins and goblins. In my youth, the trick-or-treaters carried pillowcases or paper bags to collect their bounty, and now, most have some sort of container purchased for the purpose.

Trick-or-treating customs vary even in neighboring towns and cities. COVID-19 almost eliminated the annual tradition last year and will undoubtedly have an effect this year. Everyone, children and adults, should wear a protective mask and observe social distancing. Be sure to check local laws regarding curfew times.

In some states, trick-or-treating on Sunday is prohibited. This is also true for some communities, and usually, an alternative is suggested. Again, check your local laws.

In a previous “By the Way” column, I told about my friend Rusty. He always dressed as a pirate, carrying a large pillowcase in which to stash his booty. He stuffed a second pillowcase into his pocket, just in case the first one reached capacity. Rusty’s Halloween range was far greater than mine. He worked his neighborhood of Ben Avon before dark and then came to my street about the time I walked out of my house dressed as a hobo.

We ventured from one house to the next, collecting treats. Occasionally, we would have meetings with other trick-or-treaters to discuss which places gave out the best goodies. Rusty was like a crafty angler, concealing his best fishing hole.

Sometimes Rusty would trade treats with other consultants. He always came out on the better end of the deal. I saw him trade three packs of Juicy Fruit chewing gum for a Hershey Chocolate Almond bar and a pack of Topps Baseball cards. The pack had both a Mickey Mantle and a Willie Mays card inside!

I am not sure when the innocence of the holiday was lost, but, with apologies to Dr. Seuss, the Grinch tried to steal Halloween. Due to the general malice of some people, trick-or-treating turned violent. Vandalism replaced tricks, and some treats even became severe threats. Needles and razor blades were hidden in candy and in apples.

Halloween fireworks took their toll. One of my sisters was burned when someone tossed a firecracker beneath her toddler feet. A friend lost sight in one eye following a cherry bomb accident. The reputation of a playful holiday was sullied.

Movies added to the rising sense of terror. Nightmare on Elm Street and its numerous sequels made Freddy Krueger a frightening legend. Chainsaw horrors and slasher films, including no less than ten Halloween movies, contributed to the hijacking of a kid’s delight.

Long ago, on October 31 and November 1, the Celts celebrated the end of the summer with the harvest festival known as Samhain. They believed it was a time when the dead could visit the living by passing through the thin veil separating this world from the next. They believed that during these few days, they could be reunited with loved ones who were deceased. Bonfires were lit to ward off any menacing spirits that might also return.

Pope Gregory III moved the Christian feast known as All Saints’ Day to November 1 to give Samhain a Christian interpretation. The term Halloween is derived from All Hallows’ Eve, the evening before All Saints’ Day. The Christian church recognized October 31 as the day before a holy day, so Halloween became a holiday of sorts.

More than five hundred years ago, in 1517, the leader of what became known as the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, chose All Hallows’ Eve to begin a discussion. He nailed to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany, the Ninety-Five Theses or points of disagreement with the Roman Catholic Church. In those days, the church door was like the town kiosk, a place to post public notices. Luther chose the day because he knew many people would attend church on All Saints’ Day.

Luther hoped to raise awareness and prompt discussion in order to bring about needed church reforms. Instead, his plan created such a stir that the church eventually suffered a series of divisions. Many Protestants regard Luther as a hero of the faith. To many Catholics, he is considered an incendiary rabble-rouser. Many Protestant Christians celebrate Reformation Day on October 31. Luther’s triumphal hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” is a part of the event.

In recent years, conservative Christians have renewed the battle to end Halloween observance, alarmed by the vandalism and violence associated with the day.. The conflict has produced charges from both sides that are unfair and untrue. While conservative Christians want to eliminate Halloween altogether, others prefer to reinterpret it as a holy day.

The celebration of Halloween is as varied as the opinions about the day and its meaning. Many churches have replaced Halloween festivals with Noah’s Ark parties. Before the COVID pandemic, a dedicated preschool director said to me, “We encourage the children to dress up as animals. We always get a Batman or a Spiderman in the mix. I guess bats and spiders are considered animals even in their superhero form.”

With a bit of ingenuity, a children’s classroom can be converted into an ark. I have seen Chewbacca and Yoda aboard such a makeshift ark. Are they to be considered animals? Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, and Han Solo from the Star Wars saga and the creative mind of George Lucas, as well as Harry Potter and Hermione Granger of Hogwarts lore and the imagination of J. K. Rowling, have joined Noah and his family aboard the floating menagerie. One time I saw Darth Vader admitted to the Ark. He seemed as out-of-place as Voldemort would have been.   

The church I served until my retirement celebrated with a Fall Family Festival, one of the happiest events of the entire year. Children and adults dressed up in crazy costumes. The event featured games similar to those that were a part of Halloween carnivals when I was a boy. Trunk-or-Treat replaced Trick-or-Treat. Families decorated the trunk of their cars or the bed of their pickup trucks. The vehicles were arranged along both sides of an extended parking area. Children and their parents moved car-to-car rather than door-to-door, gathering goodies from friendly adults they knew very well.

Present-day families have numerous options. Some omit Halloween altogether. Others celebrate it as a traditional holiday. Still, others try to find some middle ground. Even within extended families, there may not be agreement.  The decision is entirely up to the parents. Grandfathers and grandmothers may be tempted into a grandparent conspiracy. Please do not undermine the authority of the parents. Your restraint will be appreciated. Grandparents can have treats ready for all children with parental permission.

An eleven-year-old boy was looking forward to Halloween. His parents had always allowed him to dress up and go trick-or-treating. That year his mom and dad were out of town, and his aunt was staying with him.

“There will be no celebrating of Halloween while I’m in charge!” his aunt declared. “You can go to the party at church, but if you want to wear a costume, it must be something from the Bible.”

The boy retired to his room to ponder his dilemma. He devised a brilliant solution. He dressed himself in assorted sports equipment. With his Scout hatchet in one hand and a garbage can lid in the other, he reported to his stern aunt.

The sight of her nephew startled the aunt. “Young man, I told you that your costume had to be something from the Bible. Please explain this garb.”

“Look in Ephesians, Chapter 6,” the lad directed. “I have put on the whole armor of God. My karate sash is the belt of truth. My soccer shin guards and cleats mean that I am shod with the gospel of peace. My catcher’s chest protector is the breastplate of righteousness. My football headgear is the helmet of salvation. And the garbage can lid is the shield of faith.”

His aunt knew the Scripture well, but still not convinced, she quizzed, “And what about the Scout hatchet?”

“I didn’t have anything to use as the sword of the Spirit, so this is the ax of the apostles.”

The Grinch was outwitted again!

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor. He can be reached at

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