J. KARL MILLER: Halloween is for youngsters; let them have fun

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:44 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Stored among my earliest Halloween memories is this last verse of James Whitcomb Riley's "Little Orphant Annie":

"An' little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue/An' the lamp-wick sputters, an' the wind goes woo-oo!/An' you hear the crickets quit, an' the moon is gray/An' the lightnin'-bug in dew is all squenched away --/You better mind yer parunts, an' yer teachers fond an' dear/An' churish them 'at loves you, an' dry the orphant's tear/An' he'p the pore an' needy ones 'at clusters all about/Er the Gobble-uns 'll git you/Ef you/Don't/Watch/Out!"

My mother read that to me at age 3 before we embarked on an evening of trick-or-treating in Shenandoah, Iowa.  

For the next three years, I was joined by my two brothers as we journeyed (supervised) through the neighborhood, garbed in costumes designed (we thought) to intimidate our neighbors into anteing up treats to escape the dastardly tricks that only boys ranging in age from 3 to 7 are capable of devising.

Halloween also included the popping of corn for popcorn balls, bobbing for apples and carving a jack-o'-lantern from the duty pumpkin — activities to which we looked forward with relish and on which we look back with fond memories.

It was a family affair, marked by the pleasure of contemplating and comparing the sweets of the trick-or-treat loot and the disappointment at the inevitable, "Don't even think about touching that candy before supper."

By the time I turned 7, we had moved to a Missouri farm, which rendered neighborhood trick-or-treating night impossible but allowed other traditions, including scarecrows and ghostly yard displays, to continue.

As we matured to teenagers, the celebration added pranks such as soaping windows and toilet papering. The rumors of outhouse upending are just that — rumors, as most outdoor privies were well-anchored. There might have been a cow led into the high school.

Sadly, the celebration of Halloween has come under fire, similar to that befalling two other two holidays so delightedly anticipated by children — Christmas and Easter.

Self-proclaimed realists', progressives', secular militants' and assorted killjoys' objections to Christmas and Easter are derived from two equally absurd contentions.

The principal objection is derived from the notion that these two primarily Christian festivals are an affront to atheists, Muslims, Jews and other sects and must remain on the back burner to avoid offending non-Christians.  

Then there are those who disapprove of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny as fantasies harmful to the development of children because they compete with "reality."

These "usual suspect" detractors are joined in denigrating Halloween by two unusual assemblages: the Catholic Church and many of the various fundamental Protestant followings.  

Halloween is described as anti-Christian, the devil's holiday and a Satanic festival, any and all of which are organized by "neopagans." Many call it a celebration of the occult and claim that Halloween is a day of evil that honors witchcraft, demon worship, immorality and Satan.

A quick look at the history of Halloween reflects the opposite. Initially known as Hallowe'en, a contraction of Hallows Evening, it was the night before All Saints' Day, the Catholic holiday for honoring martyrs and saints. It is a secular observance taking place on Oct. 31, combining the traditional harvest festival with costumes, trick-or-treating and decorations.

The very idea that a 3-year-old dressed as a bat, a 2-year-old as a pumpkin, a 7-year-old as Darth Vader and a 6-year-old in a homemade costume of boxes constitute Satan worship or pagan principles is pitifully silly.  

When one throws in the nonsensical notion that the carved, smiling jack-o'-lantern is the ancient symbol of a damned soul, it should be a signal for snickers, giggles or even horse laughs.

I have always appreciated the spirit of Halloween and thoroughly enjoyed the costumes, antics and the shyness of the wee-est tykes and their "twick or tweats."  

And except possibly for being a conservative Republican, I don't believe celebrating Halloween or All Saints' Eve has irreparably scarred or disturbed my psyche to the point that I am susceptible to druids or witchcraft.

Finally, Halloween, like Christmas and Easter, is a celebration for the young and the innocent.  

Why can't we let children be children and enjoy the last carefree and unencumbered portion of life they will experience?

Kids need to be kids. Too soon they have to grow up and join the rest of us in the world of reality.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at This is his last column until November.

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Ellis Smith October 12, 2011 | 6:54 a.m.

While an individual might die at any time during their life, most people in the industrialized world now live to be at least 80 years old. By comparison, childhood - the years between birth and puberty - is really very short. Allow children to experience it; they'll be adults soon enough.

Shenandoah, Iowa? Earl May. I know some folks in Columbia who at one time lived in Shenandoah. That part of Iowa is sometimes referred to as "Missouri del Norte."

One observation. So far as I've been able to determine there are only three cities in the United States where trick or treating by long custom takes place on October 30th. The event is known as "Beggars' Night." So what do youngsters do on October 31st? There are neighborhood and school parties, and some mean kids go out on the 31st and soap windows and tip over trash cans (or roll them down hills) at locations where home owners or renters refused to give them something on Beggars' Night.

Or so I'm told. I have no first hand knowledge of such practices, but rolling a trash can down a hill on a brick-paved street DOES tend to wake up the neighborhood.

(Report Comment)
Greg Allen October 12, 2011 | 1:37 p.m.

Perhaps the killjoys 'protest too much'? Get to know your dark side before trying to wipe out everybody else's enjoyment....

(Report Comment)
Gerald Shelnutt October 13, 2011 | 11:51 a.m.

I agree with Mr. Miller.

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