Never, not once, did I ever celebrate Halloween as a kid. I never dressed up in costume or went trick-or-treating. On Halloween, I stayed on the porch, handing out candy to my friends in the neighborhood as they went from door-to-door.
My parents were in the Nation of Islam when I was born. And although their participation waned after the death of Elijah Muhammad in 1975, there were certain things we still observed long after we stopped worshipping at the local mosque.
We didn’t eat pork (I never tasted a single pork product until I was in my late 30s), and we didn’t celebrate any holidays, except birthdays and Thanksgiving.
That’s right: no Christmas, Easter or Halloween in the King household.
I don’t remember feeling particularly upset by missing out on Christmas or Easter.
Halloween was a different story.
Halloween was tough because it takes place during the school year and often falls on a school day. Christmas takes place when school is closed. So by the time you return from Christmas break, your classmates’ toys are no longer a novelty and the spirit of the holiday is long gone.
My elementary school made a big deal out of Halloween. Students were encouraged to wear their costumes to school, there was an outdoor Halloween parade during recess and every student in costume got a huge bag of candy to start the trick-or-treating season off right.
What happened if you didn’t celebrate Halloween and came to school in regular clothes?
I had to sit in the classroom with the two or three other kids who didn’t celebrate Halloween. We were in a room with a substitute, watching a grainy Mighty Mouse cartoon and listening to the raucous revelry that was taking place outside.
I was traumatized.
So let’s fast-forward to 2015. I’m the mother of an 8-year-old girl. Because my parents still observe some of the tenets of Islam (they don’t eat pork or celebrate Christmas and other Christian holidays), I feel pressured to do the same.
Except when it comes to Halloween.
I’ve let my daughter, Emmy, celebrate Halloween since she was a 2-year-old dressed as DJ Lance from the children’s television show Yo Gabba Gabba! She didn’t even yet understand the concept, but I had her in a costume anyway and made sure she was part of the recess parade at her preschool. There was no way my baby girl was going to be stuck inside watching television while her friends were out celebrating!
Every year since, we’ve enjoyed picking out her costume (she was Princess Tiana two years in a row) and connecting with her friends and classmates to go trick-or-treating together.
I’m not sure how my parents feel about the fact that Emmy celebrates Halloween. But I know it’s harmless, even if its roots are steeped in theories about spirits, the undead and other decidedly nonreligious ideals.
It opens up a bigger conversation about religion. I want Emmy to understand that there is something out there that is bigger than all of us. But I’m not going to impart any particular religion on her. She hasn’t been baptized or christened, and she doesn’t attend church unless it’s for a wedding or a funeral.
It seems silly not to celebrate a holiday because you belong to one religion or another. I know Jews who also celebrate Christmas, Christians who celebrate Hanukkah and people of all faiths who celebrate Kwanzaa. And honestly, all religious holidays are slowly becoming consumerist holidays instead. (Long before Halloween season, Kmart started running Christmas-shopping commercials.)
But beyond religion, there’s just an 8-year-old inside me who knows what it feels like to be left out of Halloween. And I don’t want that for Emmy.
This year, Emmy decided to be the spirit of a corpse bride for Halloween. (Not to be confused with the ghost of a corpse bride. I don’t know the difference and I don’t think she does, either, but she made it clear to me: “I am a spirit. Not a ghost.”)
Either way, her $29.99 costume from Party City has been procured. She’s even being allowed to wear glittery nail polish to match her costume. (Yet another parenting decision I’m hoping my mom doesn’t notice. Nail polish on an 8-year-old? For shame!)
On Friday, it’s the recess parade at school. Saturday, she’ll be traipsing the neighborhood with her friends, collecting candy. And after paying the Mommy Halloween Tax (which includes all Reese’s cups and Almond Joys), she’ll be eating candy all weekend long.
Honestly? I’m more concerned with the state of Emmy’s post-Halloween teeth than anything else. But even that won’t stop the festivities. Halloween is in full effect this year—and every year—in the King household.
In a few weeks, we’ll have to deal with the why-don’t-we-celebrate-Christmas talk. Again. So I’d better relish Emmy’s holiday joy while it lasts.
Aliya S. King, a native of East Orange, N.J., is the author of two novels and three nonfiction books, including the New York Times best-seller Keep the Faith, written with recording artist Faith Evans. She lives with her husband and two daughters in New Jersey. Find her on Twitter and at aliyasking.com.