Faith, Autism and Halloween

I come from a country with sangomas (witchdoctors), where people still put curses on their enemies, and young men drink warm goat’s blood as part of their teenage circumcision rites. I grew up first Baptist, and then Pentecostal (and now I attend my local C of E). I believe in a spiritual realm, in God and the devil, angels and demons, heaven and hell. I believe that we should not venerate death, nor glorify the sinister and evil. When I grew up, Halloween was not a thing. Or if it was, it was a bad thing, and only evil children would participate. I used to be scared that if I “did” anything, I might accidentally end up worshipping Satan. Nightmares, I tell you. Nightmares.

And here I am, all these years later, with a Little Person with autism, for whom Halloween has always been a very big thing. She watches YouTube videos with the Halloween specials of her favourite cartoons all year long. Apparently, this is not uncommon for children with autism. But it has in previous years left me a little conflicted. Until I realised that maybe she wasn’t seeing Halloween the way I see Halloween.

It’s the one time of the year it’s okay to be frightened. It’s okay to shout boo at people. There are clear rules about trick or treat – you know exactly hat to do and what you are going to get in return. Everyone is in costumes so nobody looks like they normally do. It’s comparatively easy to work out from the highly stylised visual clues – that one’s a pumpkin, this one’s a skeleton. There’s no facial expressions to try to understand. And there’s light and shadow. Little Person loves how shadows work. We carve pumpkins and talk about how it is important to have light and good things in our lives.

So yes, I grew up learning that Halloween was something dark and evil. But then I have realised that in life, as in faith, things are not as simple as they seem. What for one person may be sinister and wrong, for another may be an opportunity to explore ideas, emotions, social interaction, without anxiety and fear.

So no we don’t celebrate Halloween in this house. But we do embrace certain positive possibilities.

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