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Celebrating Halloween for the first time at 36

Up until a few days ago, I wouldn’t have known my next-door neighbor if he’d walked over and smacked me in the face. But now I’ve met nearly everyone on my street. And I have Halloween to thank for that — which is a big deal for someone who doesn’t celebrate it.

Growing up in a super-conservative Christian household, there were lots of things I didn’t do: celebrate Halloween, have pierced ears, wear makeup (although I was allowed to in high school) and a host of other things. My mom was raised in the Pentecostal Church, and though my dad was Baptist, growing up, we adhered to many things my mom did (or didn’t do). In full disclosure, I do remember being allowed to trick-or-treat one time — I wore the dog costume I’d made for a play I was in. But on every other Halloween, we went to “heaven and hell parties” or other church activities. I never felt like I was missing out on anything. Even now, when people question my choice, they don’t always get it. I didn’t feel left out. I don’t think I missed out on my childhood. So continuing that tradition with my children was pretty much a nonissue.

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This year, the church we attend offered another idea. On Saturday night, it would have one service instead of two so that we could be at home for Halloween to allow us to spend time with our neighbors. Cue the screeching record here: HUH? You want to skip a church service for us to celebrate Halloween?

But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. When is the one night you’re pretty much guaranteed to have nearly everyone in your neighborhood out and about and in a good mood? The neighbor whose trash cans you bring in, the one you greet at the mailbox, the one you speak to only to let them know their dog was barking all afternoon, the one who constantly gets your mail but never puts it back into the right box. I was still thinking of reasons to be out of the house on Halloween night when my husband made the decision: He bought three 5-pound bags of candy, a couple of bottles of wine (more on that later) and set up a picnic table at the end of our driveway.

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Our kids still had on the costumes they wore to church. We had the wine on hand, plus a few cups and a pitcher of caramel apple sangria. (What? Some Christians do drink! You know how many times wine is mentioned in the Bible?) We ordered a pizza, I turned on some music and waited. And then came the crowds. Our kids gave out handfuls of candy to everyone from toddlers to teenagers. A few adults asked for a cup of “grown-up juice.” They asked how long we’d lived here. We asked the same. And we finally met our next-door neighbors. I even let my older son walk down one street, going to eight or so houses that had people sitting out front. While he loaded up on candy, I introduced myself. Told them that I didn’t usually “do” Halloween and that I lived on the next street over.

I didn’t know how to respond when people said “Happy Halloween.” But I met people I’d never met before. I found out that despite its mostly dark windows, there actually was someone who lived in the house across the street. And for the first time in the year we’ve lived in this house, I felt like I knew my neighbors. I felt like this was my neighborhood. I felt like we belonged. Will we do this again next year? I can’t say so soon. Will I let the kids go to multiple houses, trick-or-treating? I don’t think so. But the experience was much different, much nicer, than I could have imagined.

More: Why I’ll never dress up with my kids on Halloween again

No matter what you think of Halloween — an evening of candy, an evening for worship, an evening to avoid — let’s boil it down to what it really is: a time of community. And that’s what being a Christian is all about.

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