Groups, churches offer spook-free Halloween celebrations

Sunday, October 18, 2009

With neighborhoods sprawling out and neighbors not knowing each other as well, many family groups and churches host Halloween parties where children can dress up and have fun in a safe atmosphere.

In recent years, there's been a resurgence of celebrating Halloween the old way with a focus on community members getting together. These celebrations actually bring back the older traditions of celebrating a holiday that can have either a religious or secular meaning.

Many local churches attach no negative meaning to Halloween, treating it as a holiday where children and adults dress up as imaginary ghosts, witches and goblins and receive candy. These trunk-or-treat parties and fall festivals offer parents the opportunity to bring their child to one place instead of having them wander all over the town in search of goodies.

New McKendree United Methodist Church in Jackson has been holding a trunk-or-treat since 2005. Since then it has added a chili contest, children's games and a jack-o'-lantern contest along with decorated treat-giving trunks to the festivities.

"I think we do it for the same reason so many do," said Mark Bowles, the education and youth director at New McKendree United Methodist Church. "We wanted to provide a safe and fun environment for our kids."

Josh Hepler reaches into a trunk for treats at the 2008 New McKendree United Methodist Church trunk-or-treat. (Photos courtesy Mark Bowles, New McKendree Church)

The Rev. Mike Shupert with the First Baptist Church in Cape Girardeau said safety played a part in them starting a trunk-or-treat.

"It's a safe alternative to walking around on the street," Shupert said. "Plus we want to focus on community, so Halloweenfest is open to the public."

First Baptist Church has been hosting a trunk-or-treat party for more than 10 years.

"Our event has grown from a trunk party into a bigger festival inside with game booths, candy and fun for the entire family," Shupert said.

The First Assembly of God in Scott City is hosting a carnival Oct. 31. Church member Dawn Razer has been in charge of the event for several years.

Jim and Stacy Schott, dressed as professors from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, stand with the certificate they won for their work on their Harry Potter-themed trunk at the 2008 New McKendree United Methodist Church's trunk-or -treat.

"We want to provide a safe environment for the kids to have fun. We don't make it necessarily a Halloween-type activity, just a fun thing to do," she said. "Kids can dress in costumes if they want, but it's not necessary."

Razer said the church hopes to have several booths set up with information for parents on how to keep their children safe. Several area churches are co-hosting the event with them, and local businesses are making donations to help with the cost and keep the event free.

Parents at St. Mary Cathedral School said they like the idea of celebrating Halloween.

"The celebration of a Halloween party at St. Mary is a way to honor the tradition of Halloween as the religious holiday it once was," said parent and event chairwoman Diane Woolard. "It's the celebration of the scary and spooky things of All Hallows' Eve followed by All Hallows' or All Saints' Day. It's a great way to celebrate the religious aspects of Halloween as well as have a safe place to trick-or-treat."

She said many neighborhoods aren't conducive to the children going door to door trick-or-treating, and this party for the children provides a place to dress up, have fun and get candy.

"I'll take my kids to a couple of houses in our neighborhood, but then we'll be at the party for most of the evening."

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