One of my favorite teachers in elementary school dressed up like a witch every Halloween. She had a naturally long pointy nose, and when she painted her face green and donned a broad-brimmed black hat, she was positively frightening. The only reason I can fathom that we enjoyed being so frightened was the relief we felt when we were not turned into frogs.

Halloween and its accompanying traditions are as steeped in American culture as the Palmetto plants are in my Florida back yard. Attempting to change deep-rooted traditions may seem daunting. Nevertheless, it may be productive to examine these traditions to see if they are virtuous, lovely, of good report or praiseworthy.

A Pagan Holiday

One of the most disconcerting aspects of Halloween centers in the fact that it was originally a pagan holiday. Two thousand years ago Celts dressed up like ghouls and goblins so they could scare away evil. As Latter-day Saints we are fully aware that you don’t fight evil with evil. You fight evil with good. Being meaner, more ferocious, or more gruesome isn’t the way to ward off evil spirits. Goodness, kindness, virtue and wholesomeness most effectively fights evil.

Dressing up is a blast. It promotes creativity and originality. It promotes camaraderie and helps people overcome shyness. Why not dress up as something good rather than evil? I have long been impressed with the holiday Purim, the celebration of which I witnessed while in Israel. Purim is the feast of queen Esther, honoring her courage in saving the Jews from execution. During Purim the children dress up–but they dress up in pleasant costumes. Theoretically, dressing up makes it easier to anonymously give, which is a central feature of the holiday.

When Halloween came to America the purpose was mainly to celebrate the harvest, encourage community and neighbors getting together. It would be so easy to retain this virtuous purpose of Halloween, without the vice.

Disrespecting the Body

During Halloween fear is frequently promoted through gruesome distortions of a human body or body parts. This may seem like innocent fun until you become aware that a focus on body parts is one of the deceptions that lures and snares pornography addicts.

Viewing the human body in terms of its “parts” demeans the human body. It turns a human into an object, rather than a child of God whose body is connected to a spirit. Objectification is one of the techniques that makes it possible for pornography users to indulge their addiction while suppressing the shame and guilt. Oogling body parts makes them feel they are not demeaning humans. The seemingly innocent disrespect for the human body popular during Halloween is alarming because it can desensitize our youth so they fail to become disturbed by grosser crimes.

Women also suffer when they view the human body as nothing but a collection of body parts. Self-mutilation and eating disorders can occur when women fail to see their bodies as a divine whole, a gift from God, the temple that houses their spirit, and worthy of tender care. Halloween costumes that degrade the body may open a door we don’t ever want to open.

Disrespect for the human body is not only promoted by mutilating bodies and body parts, but by exploitation of the human body. Young adults who wear modest Halloween costumes will likely find themselves in the minority, out numbered by those who use Halloween costume parties as an excuse to flaunt their bodies.


Although far less offensive than degrading the human body, we may want to be wary of lessons in entitlement learned from Halloween. Teenagers taller than I am ring doorbells long after dark on Halloween night. They don a hat, call it a costume, and ask for candy. It is a delight to hand out candy to the twins who walk up the steps dressed as two peas in a pod, or the family that each represents a character from Winnie the Pooh. Those who have put some effort into their costumes deserve recognition.

As a young girl we were taught that the treats you received while trick-or-treating were not entitlements, but rewards for some type of effort. On one occasion even a clever costume was insufficient effort. While trick-or-treating in East Mill Creek in Salt Lake City my friends and I rang a door bell, said “trick or treat,” an elderly woman answered and asked, “What’s your trick?” We stared at her not knowing quite what she wanted. Did she want us to pat our heads and rub our tummies at the same time? Do cartwheels, stand on one leg? We had never been asked to do a trick before. She then said, “I’ll teach you a trick.” And she sang the following ditty:

            “I have a pretty face

            And I have a pretty figure

            But stand back boys

            til I get a little bigger.”

We repeated the ditty back to her and she gave us candy. We felt rather satisfied that we had pleased her and offered her something she valued in exchange for our treats.

Gluttony and Waste

My children came home sweaty and exhausted one Halloween with pillow cases so laden with candy, they could hardly lift them. They compared their spoils and placed them on the scale: an average of 19 pounds of candy each was the haul. Images of Augustus Gloop on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory entered my head and I was horrified at the thought of my children consuming all that candy. Fortunately, my kids don’t like candy all that much and the quest for candy was more of a contest to see who could out-do the other. In reality the candy sat and sat and sat. I melted the chocolate and made pies for neighbors. I picked out the M&Ms and made cookies for friends. I froze the nutty bars, and threw pounds and pounds of candy in the trash.

Throwing things away is not in my nature. I’m from a “make it do or do without” household, but I believed 19 pounds of candy was far too much to eat, and throwing it away seemed the better alternative. Since then I have wondered about the virtue of collecting so much candy in the first place.

The 13th article of Faith doesn’t claim that we entirely avoid anything that is not virtuous, lovely of good report or praiseworthy but it does claim that we seek after these things. Without necessarily condemning witches and ghouls as bad or evil, we could easily encourage our youth to seek after virtue when they celebrate this October holiday.


JeaNette Goates Smith is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Jacksonville, Florida and the author of Unsteady Dating: Resisting the Rush to Romance, available at