Rethinking Halloween

The front door opened and out bolted ten excited children dressed in a variety of costumes and disguises.  They quickly loaded into the van, eager to line up and participate in the July 4th parade commemorating Bayview, Idaho’s centennial year.  Marching at the start of the parade meant each child had a chance to line the streets at the end of the parade route, to enjoy the remainder of the parade, and let’s be honest, to collect candy.

Fast forward four months.  Once again the front opens and out bolt ten excited children dressed in a variety of costumes and disguises.  They giggle and laugh, enjoying the creativity and playfulness of the day, and race over to their grandmother’s house to ring the doorbell and yell, “Trick or Treat!”

While few would question the appropriateness of children dressing up in costumes to walk in a parade, the issue of children dressing up in costumes to participate in Halloween festivities raises many an eyebrow.  Obviously the problem isn’t costumes; after all, most families have dress-up boxes filled with costumes for their kids to imaginatively play with year-round.  The problem isn’t the candy; no matter the detrimental health and dental side effects of candy, we all allow our kids (and ourselves!) to indulge in sweets now and again.

The problem, it seems, is the day itself.  Anything related to the seedy, evil, satanic holiday begun by the Celts 2000 years ago is automatically suspect, and should, according to some, be avoided at all cost.  And for awhile, I bought into that logic.  I remember hiding downstairs with all our lights off, ignoring the ringing doorbells and friendly knocks of neighborhood children dressed as ballerinas, army soldiers, zoo animals and even the occasional witch.  On any other day, I would have gladly welcomed, even sought out, their doorbell ringing and knocks.  But this night was different, and so we hid.

But then I began thinking…..What harm would it actually do to open the door, warmly greet the costumed children, exchange a few comments, wave to the waiting parents, and give them a tasty morsel?  Why, after all, were we hiding?  Was it fear?  Fear, though, is not of God; in fact, we’re told, “God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7 ESV).  Were we hiding to avoid the darkness?  If so, we were not truly letting our lights shine, nor were we declaring His praises who called us out the darkness (Matthew 5:14-16, 1 Peter 2:9).

In recent years, the number of “alternative” Halloween functions, creatively called Fall or Harvest Festivals, have dramatically increased.  Held curiously on the very night of Halloween, children gather in pumpkin-decorated buildings, dressed in costume, play games and collect candy.  It has always struck me as a little odd, and even ironic, that families who adamantly don’t celebrate Halloween excitedly participate in these harvest parties.  Is there honestly any difference between the two?

I believe God came to rescue and redeem all of creation.  I believe His power is great enough to overcome the deepest darkness and greatest evil.  In fact, He already has!  Jesus’ final words on the cross of Calvary, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) confidently and clearly declare that truth.  There is nothing out of reach, nothing too far gone, nothing unredeemable by Christ – even Halloween.  And so we walk in the reality and paradox of a broken, fallen, sinful world, redeemed by a God whose love could not, and cannot, be quenched.

And in that light, I view Halloween.  Indeed, its historical roots are evil and suspect.  (Many of our Christmas traditions are equally as suspect.)  Indeed, some take Halloween to its evil extremes.  (But, Halloween isn’t the only day of the year extreme evil is practiced.)  Must we always adopt an either-or, black-or-white, approach to situations?  Must we categorize ourselves, and others, either into “we don’t celebrate Halloween” or “they’re celebrating the devil’s holiday”?

Let’s allow God’s redemptive light to shine everywhere – even on Halloween.  Let’s re-imagine the day as an opportunity for connecting with, and blessing, our long-ignored and forgotten neighbors.  Let’s re-define the day as an opportunity to encourage play and imagination.  Let’s allow ourselves to laugh, joke, and have fun.  Let’s chose a middle-ground, standing against evil, but also embracing the joy this day can be.

As believers, we can hide away and allow others to define this day.  Or we can step forward, engage our culture, and define the day ourselves.  Sure Halloween has questionable beginnings.  But don’t we all?  God re-imagines our lives.  God re-defines our futures.  And filled with laughter and joy, we live into our restored, redefined, redeemed realities.  How powerful would it be, how powerful could it be, if we engaged with Halloween in the same manner?  What a redemptive metaphor October 31st would become if we all could just rethink Halloween…

  • Gold: “Sure Halloween has questionable beginnings. But don’t we all?” Reminds me of the Elephant Room’s conversation on church in culture and culture in church” http://www.theelephantroom.com/

  • Gesa

    Kristen, the Lutheran church in Germany came up with Luther Bonbons to hand out to people on that day. After all, for many of us the Holiday should be: Reformation Day (it remains a public holiday in some of the Länder)!
    But the media and marketing structures are way too strong to fight off Halloween. I guess we will have to live with “your” holiday from now on…

  • Darrel

    Reminds me of what I recently read: http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/the-internet-monk-annual-halloween-rant-2
    – Marilyn’s Brother

  • A.P.

    Nice post, I am currently writing an article on this topic. If you do not have an objection I might borrow a snippet. In case I do I will note your blog and add a link.

    • kristen

      I would be happy to have you quote and reference my post. If you do so, please let me know, as I’d be interested in reading your article!