In 1989, Jack T. Chick published a comic strip gospel tract that claimed to reveal the truth behind Halloween: the panels reveal a group of Satan-worshipers gathering in the weeks before Halloween to “provide our father [the devil] with a number of sacrifices.” They plan to murder some children (“in order to obtain more blood for our master”) by tainting the candy with “razor blades, crushed glass, pins, etc.” while bringing other children under Satan’s “guidance and care” by performing incantations over the candy that, when consumed, will cause children who were once “so sweet” to become “totally rebellious”--refusing to go to Sunday school “without a big fight.”
This tract undoubtedly represented an extreme view even among conservative Christians, but the idea of Halloween as a satanic holiday rife with the potential to harm children seems to have held considerable traction in many families, including the one in which I grew up and even after the isolated and rare instances of candy-tampering were shown to be largely mythical. (Though Snopes.com confirms that there were a few--very few--instances where children were pricked by sharp objects that had been inserted into Halloween candy.) Ministries such as John MacArthur’s “Grace to You” pointed out the Celtic pagan roots of the holiday and churches sought alternatives: hosting “harvest parties” where kids could dress up (but not as witches), bob for apples, and overload on sugar. Jerry Falwell went a step further and created the “scaremare”: a sort of haunted house that “replaced the demon-filled message of Halloween with the biblical message ‘man dies, Christ saves,’” in effect scaring people into belief.
These days, even conservative Christians seem to be a little more relaxed on the question of Halloween. Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family admits that he and his wife “have chosen to allow our sons to engage in the innocent and harmless side of Halloween” while condemning the excessively ghoulish displays Halloween often encourages, acknowledging that Christians differ on the subject and insisting that he “respect[s] the strongly held perspectives in both camps.” At TheResurgence.com, which is closely associated with Mark Driscoll, Winfield Bevins suggests that a “Happy Christian Halloween” is possible and that it’s a bad idea for Christians to be “weird” about Halloween and refuse to participate. Over at John Piper’s website, DesiringGod.org, David Mathis makes similar suggestions, encouraging Christians to use Halloween as a chance to connect with neighbors for the sake of the gospel.
Concerns over the pagan roots of the holiday and the fear of tainted candy may have taken a backseat for most Christians, but it’s possible that other things should concern us about Halloween: for example, the excessive consumption it entails: Americans consume a staggering amount of candy each year, and over ten percent of candy sales--or nearly $2 billion--are rung up right before Halloween. And perhaps not surprisingly, most of that is chocolate: “Of the 1.9 billion sold in Halloween candy each year, $1.2 billion was on chocolate candy and only $680 million on sugar candy,” a Huffington Post article reported, also noting that “the average American household spends $44 a year on Halloween candy each year.”
But beyond these sticky issues is an even stickier one: the fact that sugar and chocolate are known to be crops often raised and harvested by people who are little better off than slaves--including children as young as six years old. A report from World Vision recounts the true horrors of Halloween candy:
“Many children from neighboring countries are trafficked into cocoa growing areas and forced to harvest the crop. Many people profit from this, including brokers who may arrange for the children to leave their home communities, with promises of an education or better working opportunities […] Children are forced to work long days in dangerous conditions for little or no pay. There are also reports of children working 80-100 hours a week […] while battling poverty, malnutrition, and backbreaking work.”
I cannot but think of James 5:4-5, which says:
“Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.”
The World Vision report (which you can read here) notes that while the global cocoa industry acknowledged awareness of forced labor (including child labor) in 2001, most (the estimate is 95%) chocolate and products made from cocoa, such as lotions that contain cocoa butter, cannot be guaranteed to have come from farms where such practices exist, noting also that even where smallholding farmers work for themselves, they are often paid so little for their cocoa that they remain in chronic debt. It also explains how fair trade is a market-based--that is, not a charity-based--solution to these problem. To qualify for a fair trade certification, a company must meet standards of worker safety, fair pricing schemes, and environmental soundness.
When you begin to search out fair trade chocolates, you may be a bit surprised at the higher expense. But consider: the low price of the other kinds of candy may be coming at an extraordinarily high price to the already impoverished people whose labor helped bring it to you. You might think of the extra price as an offering to God that honors the people God made and the earth that God made and tenderly cares for.
The horrors of Halloween aren’t limited to ancient pagan rituals, excessively gruesome lawn décor, or the rare instance of candy contamination. They’re lurking, silently, innocently, beneath the wrappers of most of the chocolate you buy on November 1 for 50% off.
In a culture of excess--where many of us could do with a bit less than the average 24 pounds of candy each American consumes each year--the higher price of fair trade candy, at Halloween and year-round, might urge us to be better stewards of our bodies and our financial resources.
Green America offers a program, already sold out for this year, whereby you can educate yourself and others on the benefits of fair trade at Halloween. You can also buy fair trade candy at NaturalCandyStore.com and EqualExchange.com.
Rachel Marie Stone is the author of Eat With Joy: Redeeming God's Gift of Food. Her writing has appeared in Christianity Today, Sojourners, Books & Culture, RELEVANT, and others. She also regularly contributes to Her.meneutics. Rachel lives in Malawi, Africa with her husband Tim and two little boys. You can read more from her at her blog, or follow her @rachel_m_stone.