When Bill Jones was growing up in Cincinnati in the 1940s, Halloween meant collecting treats and doing tricks such as hoisting a small car onto the roof of a building or lighting a bag of cow manure and placing it in front of a neighbor's door.
"We used to call it Damage Night," said Jones, 66. Despite his bad deeds, Jones went on to become an Air Force pilot instructor, vice principal of a high school and a deacon at First Baptist Church of Glenarden.
But, oh, how times have changed.
On Saturday, Jones was among more than 1,000 parents and children at the Glenarden church who chose a spiritual way of observing Halloween, leaving behind their neighborhoods and the traditional trick or treating for hefty portions of food, fun and faith.
"Teenagers today are growing up much faster and are exposed to more things," said Jones, whose church is among a growing number to sponsor activities aimed at emphasizing religion rather than tricks at Halloween and to expose children to the view among religious leaders that Halloween is mostly a pagan rite.
Across Prince George's County last weekend, there were several alternative Halloween celebrations.
Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Fort Washington hosted an event called "Holyween." Metropolitan Church of Christ in Hyattsville sponsored "October Fest" and Riverdale Baptist Church in Upper Marlboro held a "Fall Festival."
The Rev. Grainger Browning, pastor of Ebenezer AME, said he wanted children to avoid the potential exposure to evil ways that Halloween can offer.
"We had a religious service so children will have some background on Halloween and how it is something to not casually view," Browning said. "Halloween is far more prevalent and dangerous today then in years past," he said. "We need an alternative, we need to give young people a chance to witness to their friends."
Halloween has its origins in pre-Roman, pre-Christian Celtic communities in northern and western Europe. The Celtic year ended on Oct. 31 and on that night, Druid priests celebrated a festival for the sun god and the lord of the dead. With the spread of Christianity, the Celtic tradition was gradually incorporated into the church and finally recognized in the 9th century as All Hallow's Eve, the day before All Saints Day, Nov. 1, a time for venerating all martyrs.
Matt and Sally Carns, of College Park, grew up celebrating Halloween, but on Saturday, three of their five children were at Riverdale Baptist for Fall Festival. Carns said that when he was growing up in Pennsylvania, he wore "funky old clothes" and went trick or treating. But now things have changed, he said. "Halloween focuses on death and darkness, and our goal is to teach people about light and the love of God," Carns said.
From Rosalin Ringer, 13, who won a cake, to Krystle Howard, 15, who collected candy, most of the young people at Riverdale Baptist didn't seem to mind not being on the streets.
The Rev. Brian Mentzer, senior pastor of Riverdale Baptist, said that "with all of the emphasis in America on witches and devils and things of this nature, sometimes churches have not provided good alternatives for our children. This was a great opportunity for our kids to have a safe and clean Halloween."
A similar scene was being played out in the northern part of the county. About 150 people participated in a Metropolitan Church of Christ event that the church held with the University Park Church of Christ in Hyattsville. It included games such as musical chairs and hoop-shooting.
Metropolitan minister Ed Maxwell, who is also a counselor at DuVal High School, said the goal was more than providing an alternative to Halloween, because young people today have to deal with many weighty issues.
"The nightmares portrayed in the movies during Halloween is a reality in the lives of many teenagers," Maxwell said. "Many of them are wearing masks every day to cover pain from abuse and neglect."
At First Baptist Church of Glenarden, activities for children ranged from face painting to a spiritual Simon Says. Several classrooms were filled with children and their parents.
Patricia Singleton, director of the children's ministry at First Baptist, said more than 150 adult leaders helped run the church's "Harvest Festival," which tailored activities to the children's ages and their parents.
As children entered the church grounds, they were given a comic book with Bible stories and a guide to famous African Americans.
Trina Jenkins, wife of the Rev. John K. Jenkins, First Baptist's pastor, said the churches couldn't just preach about the negative side of Halloween. They had to provide an alternative.
"It is absolutely important that when you take something from a child, you replace it with something," she said.
Jenkins said old habits are hard to break. "Many parents have been brought up with one way of doing things. It is like taking away a crutch. When you take something away, you have to replace it with something or they will fall over."
Children at the festivals seemed to enjoy the beautiful weekend and did not appear bothered by the effort to give them a little religion along with the fun.
"This is a good way to stay away from trick or treating because Halloween is the devil's day," said Darrick Stancil, 11, of Landover.
Natalie Spencer, of Greenbelt, said she didn't miss anything associated with Halloween. "It's about God on an ungodly day," she said.
CAPTION: Alexis Burke, 5, above, plays in a hay maze at Riverdale Baptist. Below, Raeshawn Blair, left, Taija Best and Brittany Harris celebrate a victory in a race at First Baptist.
CAPTION: Riverdale Baptist Church members take a hayride at Fall Festival. Standing is Benjamin Weaver, 6, whose father, Karl, is nearby, with sister Elizabeth, 3, on his lap. Far right, Lynne Fraction also takes part in the activities as an alternative to trick or treating.
CAPTION: Raven Harris, 5, has her face painted at Harvest Festival at First Baptist Church.