I couldn’t see the clock but the ticking kept me up way past the bedtime I set for myself. I was seven years old with a hyperactive imagination. Under the sheets, I could swear a naked lady colored all white from head to toe, except for her black eyes, mouth, and nails, floated perpendicular to my body with her nose right above mine. If I turn ever so slightly, I’d feel her. She was the scorned witch from Halimaw Sa Banga, one of the movies PTV 4 would play on marathon come October.
But I needed to know the time. I couldn’t be up until 3 a.m. or the witching hour. It was Halloween, and my mother used to tell us terrible stories about the demons’ special day; stories, documentaries, and books she made us hear, see, and read to understand the true nature of the holiday. It’s the Devil’s work to gain more power than Christ in the guise of fun and play when actual witches, beasts, and otherworldly creatures used all that festive energy to perform their rituals and deeds.
My sister and I grew up with these religious notions that pushed our church to follow out of fear rather than love, mainly doing evil that will cast your soul to hell’s eternity. Everything revolved around that. Being kind, helping out, and sharing God’s word weren’t because you’re compelled by intrinsic compassion and universal love, but because you were afraid to sin. You were under strict surveillance of a human-like God sitting on a golden throne in some realm, who is quick to judge every action and motive. Even your thoughts can sin. Growing up, it was inevitable to drown in guilt that you can only hope long, sincere, tearful prayers will cleanse.
And so, even uttering the word Halloween was tantamount to Voldemort in my childhood home. Every year, there was something my mind would conjure: a hanged man in my bathroom with a bloated head spilling his blood and juices to the floor; spirits possessing trees that communicate their evil plans through shadows; a seemingly normal girl in black shaking the backyard screen door. If we tried to seek shelter in my mother’s room, we were called children of little faith. These are our own spiritual battles, she said. The imaginations weren’t simply the result of psychological cause and effect from years of drilling frightening images in our heads, but a higher power controlling our thoughts. “Pray harder. Read the Bible until you fall asleep,” she said.
Our church would hold a counter event to Halloween which they called Harvest. Instead of ghosts and ghouls, we were asked to wear wholesome costumes. Games revolved around Bible verses. Songs are the typical praise and worship from Sunday School. We ended the night in prayer.
As my sister and I reached high school, fear turned into curiosity, then to jealousy. While friends met up and enjoyed trick or treating, we were stuck at home. Mother would usually be in a prayer meeting on Halloween to battle the forces of the night. We binge-watched horror flicks. We specifically loved documentaries on true crime. We often snuck out with friends to see the village celebrations.
When my sister and I were both old enough to leave home, mom loosened her strict ideals. She learned, as we did on our own, that spirituality and God’s teachings aren’t always what the church interprets them to be. In an effort to deliver an understandable message to a congregation of different comprehension, not to mention to keep said community supporting and paying their tithes diligently to a single church, leaders package the sermons that would appeal to their crowd. And the crowd could easily get bored, always on the lookout for a priest or pastor that ignited their sermons into TED talks. They gave it their own meanings, interjected their thoughts, believing that the guidance of the Holy Spirit will give credence to their takes.
Now with our own children, my sister and I would sometimes fall under that trap of guilt through core beliefs, which shaped our foundation, that we couldn’t easily relearn. With our kids in costume participating in school and community Halloween activities, we often discuss what taking part of in such a loathed event in our early lives meant to our spiritual beliefs. “If we shouldn’t celebrate Halloween, then we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas. Because that’s a pagan holiday. And the symbols we celebrate along with the supposed birth of Christ has nothing Christian about it,” sister would say.
And I get her point. It’s the meaning we put into these events that matter. I do believe in the forces of evil, but I also believe that fearing them isn’t exactly stopping them from what they do. It’s most likely the opposite. So I choose to teach my daughter to not live in fear, to acknowledge the presence of both good and evil, and to understand that labels like good and bad aren’t always black and white in this world. That’s how I want her to see Halloween.
Art by Marian Hukom
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