When I was a child, my parents allowed me to go trick-or-treating under one condition: I didn’t dress up as a witch or a devil.
As luck would have it, when I was nine or 10, all of my friends decided to dress up as a clan of witches for my school’s Halloween parade.
I begged my parents to let me be one too, but my mother bought me a spider queen costume instead. The next day at school, I borrowed a hat from a friend and told everyone I was a witch.
I’ve kept that secret from my mother to this day.
I was raised in a small United Pentecostal Church where I was taught strict social standards, like that women shouldn’t cut their hair or wear pants and men who grow beards aren’t fit for positions of church leadership. Most of my church friends weren’t allowed to attend public school, although I was allowed.
Anything related to magic or evil spirits was taboo. As a result, my friends and family in the church never celebrated Halloween.
I was usually able to convince my parents to let me go trick-or-treating with school friends, but some years they were firm in their denial. Instead, our church would throw fall festivals during which I would spend an evening bobbing for apples and singing worship songs.
I did enjoy spending time with my friends from church, but being prohibited from going trick-or-treating made me feel like an outcast among my friends who were not religious.
Even though I sometimes felt excluded when I couldn’t go, I found companionship elsewhere and was lucky enough to have friends from church who also didn’t celebrate Halloween.
Still, at times it felt as if I was living a double life, having to balance the strict standards of my church with the more relaxed attitudes of my friends at school.
After a while, donning the ankle-length skirt I wore to church services became a kind of costume in and of itself.
Saying my relationship with religion was complicated is an understatement. Although my pastors preached to me messages of love and acceptance, as I grew older those sermons felt more like insincere platitudes than anything else.
This became especially apparent to me after my best friend came out as bisexual, and I was told it was my responsibility to save her from her sin. After that incident, I was no longer able to find any comfort or joy in that small church.
So, when I was 15 years old, I left.
I no longer attend my childhood church, but I don’t hold any ill-will toward those who do. I am not one to reject or vilify religion because I’ve seen and experienced the many positive effects it can have first-hand. Religion has the power to foster feelings of community and comfort when it is truly founded on ideals of love and acceptance.
I don’t dislike religion by any means. However, I wish I would have been given the opportunity to seek it out on my own rather than have it be imposed upon me.
Even though I have chosen to follow my own spiritual path, I am grateful for my past in the church. Living that life taught me to be more receptive of others’ beliefs and values, so long as they are truly based in love and are not just a disguise for hate.
Instead of mocking those who participate in seemingly strange or foreign religious practices, we should accept them as they are. If a family doesn’t believe in celebrating Halloween, they have a right to that choice. Those of us who do celebrate shouldn’t judge this decision as abnormal.
And sure, growing up without a Halloween was sometimes alienating, but I took comfort in that I was never truly alone and always had a friend to turn to.