Friday, October 31, 2008

LDS Missionaries, Masks, and Halloween

I asked my wife what missionaries do on Halloween. She told me they just stay in. That just didn't sound right to me so I thought I would check out the net on the subject and see what I could find out. Here is what I found.

The Church has a policy that discourages the use of masks and immodest clothing but leaves other costumes up to the members discretion. The use of mask is discouraged for a variety of reason such as "it obscures vision" or it hides the identity of the user who might lose control of their inhibitions and do things they might have not done otherwise.

First off I wondered where missionaries would be affected by Halloween since it is not celebrated in every country in the world. Wickipedia informed me that "Halloween is celebrated in several countries of the Western world, most commonly in the United States, Canada, Ireland, Puerto Rico, Japan, Australia, United Kingdom, and at times in parts of New Zealand. In Sweden the All Saints' official holiday takes place on the first Saturday of November." So missionaries encounter it and have to work around it in those countries.

The second thing I wondered was whether missionaries would follow the LDS suggestion of not wearing masks. Halloween is otherwise left up to the discretion of the person on what they wear.
I have found out from my search of missionary blogs that some missionaries have a fixation on masks so that disproved my supposition of their being totally obedient.

Most mission presidents encourage them to be creative in finding missionary-related activities since they are concerned for their safety. I know that a few mission presidents discourage their going out tracting or to non-member parties since people can get carried away in their jokes and a few have libations that can cause them to be erratic or do mean things to the elders and sisters. I remember myself when I had an iron-rodder companion who tried to get me to go tracting. A drunk was coming down the stairs and when my companion tried talking to him. The guy told him if he didn't get out of the building he would throw him down the stairs. I laughed knowing the companion was built like a twig and the guy could have crushed him. I stopped my companion and said elder let's go. Luckily he did. I think we went over to a member's house after that. It was basicly a wasted night.

We didn't have trunk or treat back then and missionaries have become more sophisticated at using holidays to their advantage. Many missionaries find safe things to do including attend Ward Trunk-or-Treat activities or holding district or zone-wide activities.

Trunk-or-Treat has really become a standard practice in many wards in the United States and Canada. Missionaries really use it as a tool to get out their investigators so they can see that Mormons are just like them. Joyce Kinmont explains "Some wards, concerned about the safety of trick-or-treating after dark, have begun holding Halloween parties, dinners, or costume parades in their cultural halls. Other wards gather in the church parking lot, where members dispense treats from their car trunks and play games (see “ ‘Trunk-n-Treat’: a Halloween alternative,” Church News, 5 Nov. 1994, 5)."

Some missionaries actually stay home and give out a small piece of candy with a Book of Mormon or play board games. Many help members or investigators pass out candy. Others hold district, zone or mission-wide activities with party games such as bobbing for apples, pin the tail on the missionary, etc. A few mission presidents and their wives use it as a time for bonding with their missionaries.

Some harmless forms of fun in a few organized activities I found on their blogs was believe it or not "bobbing for apples" in a district activity. Missionaries like to go and help set up the trunk or treat parties bringing their investigators. If they don't have them they usually do the grunt work like mopping the floors after the ward members spill soda pop all over the floor or their chili. For some reason trunk or treat parties seem to have a chili theme in recent years in wards I have lived in. I like the way missionaries can turn a lemon into lemonaide.

I read in a recent post by Kent Larson "Mormon Halloween: Its Origin and Destiny" a comment that confirms missionaries' humorous desire to cross-over church policy and be naughty:

Our ward had its Halloween party last Saturday. It wasn’t billed as a Fall Harvest party or anything like that, but a Halloween party. And one of the elders dressed up as that dark sith lord (the red one with the horns played by Ray somebody; I forget what his name was in the movie), and he was awesome, just like Santa Claus at the Xmas party, with kids getting their pictures taken with him.

It’s true that Mormons don’t have anything quite like Purim in their own tradition, but isn’t trunk-or-treat a pretty strongly represented cultural variant? And at our ward parties we always feature chili and fritos so people can make frito pies; do other wards do that or is that just us?

Comment by Kevin Barney — 10/27/2008 @ 10:48 am

Missionaries are really just a fun-loving group of boys and girls. Most consider their activities a way of blowing off steam. For the most part most missionaries are obedient to church rules and regulations but a few like to test the boundaries. I am sure a few sneak out in costume dressed as themselves and knock on doors for candy.

Halloween can be a difficult holiday for some missionaries. Most up until the year before their missions have been going out either to trick or treat or to parties where they do activities with friends. It is a sombering thought as you walk down a dark street and won't be knocking on doors with a pillow case that you are growing up and that when you come home from a mission you have entered the world of adulthood. I am sure there are some interesting ways missionaries celebrate Halloween out there.


Ian said...

I served my mission in Southern California from 96-98, and I we did different things on Halloween.

On my first Halloween (My first month in my first area) we did normal work until it came to a point where we realized that it was all pointless. We gravitated to my companions "trunky family" as we called it and decided to waste some time there until we came up with something else to do. They asked us to go trick or treating with them, so we did. People would laugh when they saw us saying things like "Jehovahs witnesses? Good one.", or "Mormon Missionaries, that's funny." It was even more weird when someone realized that we really were missionaries.

The next Halloween our Mission President asked all the missionaries to say in that night. We went and bought a bunch of candy and wrapped the candy in some tracts that had been lying around in the pad for quite some time. It was "13 things the true church would have" or something like that. We also put our phone number on those tracts. Strangely (or not strangely) we didn't receive a single call back :-)

I have another experience from that Halloween, but i'll hold off because my post is already too long winded.

Oh, good post by the way. People sometimes forget that missionaries are people too. :=)

Bored in Vernal said...

I hope you will share your other experience. I know what you mean about giving out lots of tracts and then getting no interest.

Ian said...

Well, since you asked so nicely.

A day or two before the Halloween where we gave out candy, we taught a first discussion at this families house. I think they may have been a video referral, anyway, they seemed really nice but were pretty set in their church. They asked us what we thought about Halloween. We told them that we usually just ha a war party and we used it as another excuse to get together. They then preceeded to tell us that they thought Halloween was evil. They went on for a while, and we told them that we understood their feelings and everything.

Well, fast forward to Halloween night. We were giving out candy and guess who shows up at the door. You guessed it, it was that family with thier kids, trick or treating. It actually took me a couple of seconds to realize who it was. They started making excuses immedialy for why they were out trick or treating. I just thought it was funny.

angelin said...

A halloween mask is usually scomething scary, worn over your real face, which is ordinarily not scary. That image raises the idea that tolerance is someting scary, which is not the right image. It seemed jarring to think of tolerance that way, when many accuse the church of being intolerant in reality, while wearing a mask of Christanity, which should be about love and acceptance.
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George said...

Great entry. You said "The Church has a policy that discourages the use of masks."

I'm trying to hunt down the source of that idea and was wondering if anybody, especially the author has any ideas as to where this belief originated? Any official citations?

I'm a blogger here at BYU-Idaho, and we are having a Masquerade ball on saturday. Masks are on sale by the school. Help me out.

Anonymous said...

The mask rule was in "Mormon Doctrine," which has since fallen out of favor in the church. It is not a commandment, but a recommendation. My oldest son was terrified by people in masks.

Anonymous said...

Actually, in the Handbook in
Unapproved Activities
Church units may not sponsor the following activities. Leaders, parents, and others who plan or participate in Church activities should be aware of these restrictions.
Activities that involve wearing masks, except in dramatic productions.

It is not a recommendation as another has said, it is a rule in the handbook.