June 24, 2018
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My neighbors are calling us devil-worshippers, but I just want to be friends — help

Emily Yoffe
By Emily Yoffe, Slate

Dear Prudence,

Last year, one of our neighbors was really ticked off about our Halloween decorations being too scary. We really do go for the more ghoulish decorating and have a lot of fun with it! What’s Halloween without the fog machines, scary music (not loud), ghosts and gruesome decor? The neighbors on either side of us have joined the fun and put up quite a display themselves. None of the decorations is over-the-top blood and guts, but the standard Halloween fare.

The angry neighbors across the street have a 5-year-old daughter. They said she wouldn’t sleep with the light off for a month after our “horrifying” decorations “scared the daylights” out of their little girl. They also said they hoped that we would refrain from the frightening decorations since we now knew they upset their daughter. They still will barely speak to any of us who decorated using anything “scary” to a 5-year-old.

Prudie, the kids on our street are a wide variety of ages, with the vast majority of the kids being 8 or older. I have three boys ages 8, 10 and 12 who have a great time with the scary stuff. Is it insensitive for us to decorate with tombstones, scary witches and skeletons? My boys and their friends next door are already planning new ideas for the Halloween display. Should I pull the plug on the fog machine and plan a super-duper Happy Halloween?

— Haunted

Dear Haunted,

My daughter was still in her high chair having dinner when our first trick-or-treater — wearing a wolfman mask — came to the door, and my husband thought it would be great to bring him into the house and show our toddler. Naturally, hysterics ensued. Nonetheless, she recovered and went on to be dressed as a witch and a skeleton during her elementary-school years and even asked to go back twice to the house of the people with the twitching plastic rat.

Sure, your neighbor’s daughter was scared, but being a parent means not expecting the world to bend to your child, but guiding your child through the world. If the parents have carried out this grudge for a year, I feel sorry that their little girl is missing lessons in humor and resilience.

My suggestion is that before you start the decorating, you go over and speak to the parents and say that you’d enjoy it if their daughter (and her parents) came over to help your sons decorate the house. Say that you think if she helps the big boys and can see all this scary stuff is just things in boxes and not so scary after all, that she will really enjoy the festivities. If they shut the door in your face, tell your sons to skip their house when they go out for candy.

— Prudie

Dear Prudie,

My family and I just moved this summer and are really enjoying our new home. We’ve met some of our neighbors and have visited in passing. Between work and driving our kids to practices, there really hasn’t been a lot of time to get to know anyone further. This weekend, my husband and I were out working on the yard, and my next-door neighbor was also outside. We were visiting, and pretty soon his spouse joined us. Our kids are similar in age, and they ended up outside throwing the football around and having a good time. All this was very spontaneous and fun. We were having such a great time we invited them all over for dinner next weekend.

Later in the conversation, Halloween came up. That’s when everything went straight to hell, literally. Turns out, our neighbors view Halloween as worshipping the Devil ,and all who participate as Satan-worshippers. Prudie, we love Halloween and throw ourselves into the fun. Before moving, we hosted a party every year and went all-out decorating. But as the conversation progressed, it became clear that this would be a deal-breaker on any new friendship with these neighbors. In fact, it would offend them. If it just involved my husband and me, we wouldn’t hesitate to do as we please. But I hate to have my kids lose their new buddies.

So, Prudie, “witch” way do we go? Do I leave all my skeletons in the closet, or tell them that the Devil made me do it?

— Are We Wicked?

Dear Wicked,

What a treat, you’ve taken care of every Halloween pun and I don’t have a ghost of a chance trying to compete. As with the previous letter-writer with the overly protective parents, you cannot find yourselves intimidated from enjoying your holiday because of whom you live next to. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry that if you offend these fundamentalists, they will come after you with pitchforks and torches. But it’s likely things will get icy after the holiday. It could be these are the kind of people who don’t believe in Christmas decorations and Santa displays, so bending to their will only take the fun out of life. Since you have become friendly with them, you could ring the bell and give them a heads-up before Satan takes over your house. Explain that all of you enjoy Halloween, and you wanted them to know that you are going to be decorating. Then tell your kids not to ring the doorbell of those neighbors.

— Prudie

Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. Questions may be edited.

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