A conversation about growing up in the U.S. without celebrating national dress-up-and-get-free-candy day
Illustration by Addison Eaton
It’s too late for me. I’m almost 23 years old—long past the age where it’s appropriate. I have no kids of my own and I don’t particularly enjoy the company of children. So, in addition to going to prom, getting drunk on grad night, and loving Bruce Springsteen, it seems like I’ll have to add trick-or-treating to the long list of Great American traditions I will never experience.
I’m not bitter. I can buy my own candy now—as much as I want, whenever I want—because I’m an adult. But at 12 years old, when every kid in your class is out dressed in Pokémon costumes and amassing large supplies of bite-size Snickers from complete strangers while you’re stuck at home being cajoled into eating a Libyan dish of stuffed cow intestines, this stuff can seem pretty harsh. Cruel, even. It was the devil’s holiday, my parents said. And yet, not a single one of my non-Muslim friends would own up to being a devil worshipper, and over time, I grew skeptical of the foundations of my parents’ argument.
I’m not the only one out there. There are others like me, and I have sought them out. For years, we have suffered in silence. “I don’t even like candy,” we lied through clenched teeth, all through third grade. For years, we hid in the darkness of our homes as we listened to the laughter of trick-or-treaters outside. No more. These are our stories.
\nSafy-Hallan Farah, writer, 24\n
Reason for not trick-or-treating: Religious
Safy, you’re celebrating Halloween for the first time this year!
I made these exact plans last year. I was like, ‘I am going to celebrate Halloween. I don’t care. I’m doing it.’ And I didn’t end up doing it, because I got lazy. Halloween came around and I was like, ‘You know what, I gotta watch Netflix or something.’ But this year, I told myself, I’m going to do it and there’s no greater incentive than promising myself that I’m going to look fancy. I decided I’m going to pick a costume where I’m going to be able to wear false eyelashes and basically dress like I don’t get the opportunity to dress like on regular occasions.
Like a big ball gown? I would LOVE that.
Maybe, I don’t know! I wanted to be Diana Ross and then for a while I was thinking I should just be like Raven-Symoné’s character, Raven Baxter, on That’s So Raven. it’s an easy look. I feel like I have so many clothes that belong at Goodwill and I could just wear those clothes. That’s an easier costume but I want to go for something more elaborate.
You could always do the ironic, post-modern thing and dress up as the gum on someone’s shoe.
Oh my God. I think my friend is doing that. My friend does this thing where he dresses up every year but it gets increasingly dumber. I think this year he wants to be a paper bag.
That’s just lazy.
[laughs] It’s lazy. But he’s from that generation of Muslim kids that never celebrated Halloween. And now he’s like, ‘I’m going to celebrate it but with, like, minimal effort. I don’t owe you guys anything.’
I’m of that generation. I never celebrated Halloween. I still haven’t. Sometimes I participate in the candy-eating.
Ah, yes, the candy-eating. Basically mooching off of everybody’s candy the morning after.
We’d buy the Halloween-themed candy that’s half-off the price the next day. That’s what we did, growing up, my mom knew that we wanted to dress up in costumes. My mom would buy us the costumes after Halloween. My brother and me would wear them, but it was the saddest thing. It was just me and my brother, wearing costumes in our backyard in the middle of January. It somehow made it worse.
You wanna hear my most depressing Halloween story? In first grade, they told us everybody has to come to school dressed up because it’s Halloween. And I didn’t come to school dressed up. I came to school wearing a yellow shirt and what the teacher did was she got some yellow construction paper and started making this little thing that I would put over my head to be the sun. I was the sun for Halloween. And I had lots of body issues, even back then, I remember feeling like, ‘I’m so fat, she made me the sun!’ That’s one of my saddest Halloween stories.
Tasbeeh Herwees and her brother wearing Halloween costumes in mid-January
\nCandace Aman, writer, 23\n
Reason for not trick-or-treating: Geographical
I didn’t celebrate Halloween!
Tell me about it!
Up until [I was] 10, I grew up in Singapore. Even though Singapore is a highly Westernized Asian country—it’s pretty urban—we didn’t get to celebrate American holidays. Besides, like, Christmas. All the ideas I got about Halloween came from Mary-Kate and Ashley movies. So I’ve always wanted to dress up as a witch because I think that was a thing in a Mary-Kate and Ashley movie. There was no place to go get costumes that I knew of [or] that my mom was even aware of. I wanted to go trick-or-treating. That wasn’t an option.
The first costume that I had when I was here was a witch, actually. That was something I always wanted to be until I realized how stupid it was to be a witch on Halloween. People are done with the cliché costumes past the age of 5. That’s something I wasn’t aware of.
So there was no Halloween-equivalent in Singapore?
No! Not at all. We have like, Children’s Day, or whatever, where the school would throw a party and there would be people in costumes passing out treats. They might even pass out candy? But in terms of celebrating the ghoulish—that’s so frivolous. They didn’t have anything like that.
And your first Halloween, you dressed up as a witch?
I moved here in fifth grade. They had a Halloween parade at school and everyone just circled the play yard in their costumes. That was when I begged my mom to go to CVS to get me a witch costume. When I got to school, I was so embarrassed that I was in this witch get-up and everyone else was in these really cool costumes. The thing about going to a Halloween store—which I haven’t done since middle school—and getting your costume: There’s slim pickings! In fifth grade, I [was] bigger than a child, so the next level up were these really salacious, scandalous, skimpy costumes and I didn’t want to do that.
Did you feel disillusioned at all?
Absolutely! Yeah. With the costume aspect, anyway. But then, I went trick-or-treating and it was everything I hoped for, and more.
Maky Peters-Vreede, student, 23
Reason for not trick-or-treating: Religious
What’s your saddest/funniest Halloween story?
I don’t know that I could pick a specific year because they’re all kind of the same for me. Every Halloween, I would just like stay in with my mom and we would turn out all the lights. We had these massive windows — everybody could see through to the apartment. We would have to turn out the lights and make it seem like we were hiding out on Halloween.
As a kid, I didn’t necessarily understand beyond the fact that it was a pagan holiday and that’s why we’re not doing it. It didn’t make it much easier that I had a friend [whose] family was also in our church. They always compensated with an “after” holiday—an “After Halloween.” They would do their own dress up day and my parents would be like, you can’t go to their house on that day because that’s not what Jehovah’s Witnesses are supposed to do.
I was like bartering my lunch for people’s candy. I remember doing that a lot.
There weren’t a lot of kids who went to school that lived near where I lived, so at least I didn’t have to see a lot of people that I knew, but there were a few. And whenever you’d see them walk up to our house, you’d be like, oh gosh, I hope they don’t see me. I would just feel like we’re this naysayer, party-pooper family. Why do we have to be so lame about it?
Now, in college, there are opportunities to dress up, but it’s always like some culturally insensitive costume party. I’m not going to do that. Maybe one day if I have kids I’ll be able to dress up and do that fun stuff.
I feel the same way.
In fourth grade, I had a teacher—I don’t want to say she was a WASP, but she was an older woman who probably had never met anybody who told her Halloween was an issue for them. I think she thought it was me being petty. We were doing this activity where everyone was drawing a haunted house…And I was like, I can’t draw a haunted house. It could be a princess castle or it could be something else. But it can’t be a haunted house. And the teacher flipped out on me.
Things like that were more difficult for me, really, than not dressing up.
What was your parent’s reasoning?
‘We don’t celebrate holidays, things that are too connected to the world, because these are worldly things.’ So even birthdays. Literally every single holiday was off the table completely. Even Valentine’s Day, I couldn’t bring home candy from school.
That was me too!
Right? It’s not the biggest deal. It’s not the hugest thing to be missing out on. It was more so, when I would have to go and talk to a teacher and be put in the position where the adult didn’t understand where I was coming from and I had to explain what I didn’t even understand to them.
\nSophia Lee, journalist, 27\n
Reason for not trick-or-treating: Religious
Tell me your story, Sophia.
I was always so envious of America, because I was a voracious reader but I mostly read a lot of American books, like The Baby-Sitters Club. I was exposed to all this culture, like Halloween. And when I was growing up in Singapore, we didn’t have a lot of American treats. We had Mars bars from Australia but we didn’t have, like, chocolate chip cookies except for the packaged Chips Ahoy. We didn’t have a lot of the things that American people had. But we’d read about these things in books and we really wanted to experience it. As a kid, especially Halloween, it’s such a magical event! You get to dress up and get free candy. That blew my mind.
One of the things I really wanted to try was candied apples. You know why? Because I had no idea what it was. It just sounded so delicious. But then I realized it was just an apple covered in a sticky thing.
I also really just wanted to try a pretzel, because of the name. Pretzel. Isn’t that fun? I had elaborate thoughts about what a pretzel would be like, but I tried a real pretzel I was so turned off.
But you have to remember that my dad’s a pastor. A Christian pastor. So Halloween is a, you know, a day of the devil. Maybe your Muslim parents were the same?
Yeah. So when I came to America [in eighth grade] I was going to have a Halloween thing. I was going to dress up and go trick-or-treat in the neighborhood. I was so excited and I already had some kind of a costume planned out. And then I told my dad I was going and he said no. And my friend was there, waiting for me to go trick-or-treating and my dad was saying no and he sat me down for a full 30 minutes and lectured me on why Halloween is devil culture.
Oh my God.
I was so embarrassed. I cried and I cried and I cried.
I had my first Halloween trick-or-treat, though, when I was 17. By then I was too old for my dad to control. But you know, going trick-or-treating when you’re 17, people give you weird looks. So what I did was dress up as a slutty Catholic girl.
It was a very lame outfit, because it was a plaid skirt and high heels and a white shirt and a hat.
Did it live up to your expectations?
It didn’t, only because nobody wanted me there. I was going in the neighborhood, and there were kids like 3 or 4 years old, and they looked so cute in their Halloween costumes. I looked like a predator. [laughs] I just didn’t belong.