There are a few things I’m sure about when it comes to the controversial subject of Halloween.
One: Seriously, whose idea was have kids go from door to door in the dark demanding excessive amounts of sugar from total strangers? That doesn’t even make sense.
Two: I live in Minnesota, and therefore most weather-appropriate costumes should come with parkas, even if that ruins the effect a bit.
Three: Candy corn is disgusting.
There are other things I’m less sure of, but that I’ve been thinking through recently. Please take this post in that spirit (no pun intended).
Full disclosure: I’m not a mom. I don’t know what it’s like to tell your little princess she’ll have to save the sparkly fairy dress for the dress-up chest (or a church Fall Fest). Or, alternately, trying to explain to your little pirate that, while you’re touring the neighborhood to solicit candy, you don’t actually support the undead, sorcery, or guys with chainsaws being “cool.” But hopefully I can throw some interesting thoughts into the discussion anyway.
If you’re a Christian, I think deciding whether or not to celebrate Halloween sticks you with two tricky theological questions:
Do we give Satan too much credit and imply that he’s stronger than the defeated enemy he is by sweeping over the entire celebration and calling it “evil”?
Or do we trivialize real evil, dismissing deeper spiritual realities by looking at only the cute, culturally acceptable parts of the celebration and calling it “harmless”?*
Let’s skip the whole can-o’-worms issue of the origin of the holiday and go straight to how it’s celebrated today. If we’re going big-picture here, then deciding whether a holiday lines up with the Christian faith, the first thing we should probably ask is “What is our faith about?”
It’s about grace. It’s about the unexpected entrance of hope into a very grim, very dark story. It’s about a love that isn’t earned or deserved, about imperfect people living in community, about truth that sets us free. It’s about hope and courage and self-sacrifice and joy that goes beyond our circumstances.
There’s a lot there worth celebrating.
Then, we can move on to “What is Halloween about?”
On a generous day, we can say it’s about collecting insane amount of packaged candies, putting up spooky decorations, dressing like a cartoon character or future occupation or whatever Mom could piece together from the attic.
Less generously, we could include things like haunted houses (where for some inexplicable reason you pay people to terrify you), slasher films (because someone has to keep the fake blood industry going), monsters in various stages of non-existence (dead, undead, mostly dead…), spells and graves and demons and ghosts, all mixed together like the delightful cocktail of animal appendages in Macbeth.
Which seems less worthy of celebrating, even if we go with the generous option.
You can make the argument that Halloween doesn’t celebrate fear and darkness, but rather fun and imagination. I can buy that to a point, and there may be a way to celebrate where that is the focus, but come on, guys. I’ve walked through the Halloween section of Walmart. I’ve seen those cackling Bloody Undead Ghost Clowns. There’s a lot of PR for fear and darkness going on.
I look at Christians celebrating Halloween much like I do people who insist that Valentine’s Day really is Singles Awareness Day…you can do that, I guess, but you have to change the entire cultural message of the holiday, and most people won’t realize what you’re really celebrating and…really, what’s the point, anyway?
I’m not saying that every kid wearing a sparkly witch tutu has sold her soul to the devil. I’m not saying that Satan is behind every tissue paper ghost hanging from the trees or that you should hold a book burning party for Harry Potter instead of trick-or-treating.
All I’m saying is that what we celebrate is important. What we treat as unimportant or harmless makes a statement. And what kids see us approving or disapproving matters.
That said, there could be 100% acceptable, family-friendly, non-occult ways to celebrate Halloween in your community, and you may choose to participate with your kids. Just make sure you know why you’re making your choice. And consider talking about it with your kids. If we miss that step, no matter what we decide, I think we’re missing a huge opportunity.
If parents who don’t want their kid to participate in Halloween don’t explain why, the kid might think, “I bet my parents just want me to look like a loser to all my friends and don’t want me to become Batman when I grow up and Jesus must hate fun and happiness and candy corn.” (The kid would be right about the candy corn, but that’s it.)
If parents who do let their kid participate in Halloween don’t explain why, the kid might think, “I bet my parents just caved to this because everyone else is doing it and ghosts and zombies and voodoo aren’t really a big deal and playing around with things like that is okay as long as you don’t go too far and also my dad is probably secretly Batman in disguise.”
Are these exaggerated? Maybe a little. But you get the point. If you talk about the “whys” behind your choice for Halloween, you teach your kids that choices matter, that what you believe about God influences what you do and why you do it.
If you think I’m ridiculous for making Halloween a theological issue…well, wait for things to get even crazier. Because I think everything is a theological issue.
Theology doesn’t just teach us how to pray, guys. Theology teaches us how to respond to airline attendants after a flight delay, how to file our taxes, how to drive in a school zone, how to work out at the gym. If it doesn’t affect how we walk, talk, dress, give, create, and yes, celebrate holidays, then we’re not doing it right. It’s not about rules, about following a firm “always do this” or “never do that” for every possible scenario. It’s about loving God so much that we try to walk out our faith as best we can with the help of the Holy Spirit, even in the most mundane choices.
I would’ve said “Holy Ghost” instead of Holy Spirit, but I don’t want both sides of this debate to come down on me after this post. Or worse, to torture me by mailing me large packages of candy corn.
Okay, let’s talk. Did you celebrate Halloween as a kid, and why or why not? If you have kids, what do you do now, and why?
*Stuffy Footnote for the Dedicated Reader: Although I should also note that I think there’s a time and place for taking the spiritual realm lightly. Lewis started out The Screwtape Letters with this quotation from Luther: “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.” (Almost as if he knew that Christians get a little touchy when it comes to talking about Satan. Or humor in general.) Lewis and Luther have a good point. We don’t need to show respect and reverence for the devil the same way we would toward God. We can have fun at his expense…but for what purpose? What Lewis did with The Screwtape Letters helped Christians to think properly about the powerlessness of the devil in light of God’s love, and gave them insight into resisting temptation. Trick-or-treating probably doesn’t accomplish anything that profound. Possibly anything at all except kids in a sugar coma.