Halloween troubles me. Not because of the ghosts, ghouls, witches and pumpkins. Nor because I fear that it is a gateway to hell. Not even because it encourages extortion (‘trick or treat?’). What troubles me is that I am not sure of the best way to respond as a Christian.
- Some churches go all out to condemn it and proclaim it as the work of the devil.
- Some churches put their fingers in their ears and close their eyes and wait for it to go away.
- Some churches put on alternative Halloween events and invite children from the surrounding area to join them for a ‘light’ party or similar, but tell them that they can’t wear scary costumes (which makes them stand out a bit).
- Some churches embrace it as an opportunity for fun.
And I don’t know what to do. All these positions are flawed in my humble opinion. Let me say at the outset I am not downplaying the existence of evil in the world. It’s real and it can cause serious damage. You only have to open a newspaper or watch the news on the TV to be convinced that there is evil out there.
But does it really inhabit the costumes and make-up and pumpkins and sweet-collecting? The response to Halloween from some Christians resembles the response to Harry Potter: it will open the door to the occult. But (and I may be naive here) I did not sense evil there. Indeed the values that were at the heart of those books would be ones that Christians ought to embrace – loyalty, love and standing up against evil and oppression.
Maybe I am being naive here too, but if there is the possibility of evil influence in Halloween isn’t it possible that God can use it, redeem it, transform it? If it awakens some people to the existence of evil in the world doesn’t it also awaken them to the likelihood that there is also a God who loves us? Surely to believe in the possibility of God you also have believe in the possibility of evil?
Does our response sometimes do more to reinforce the prevailing stereotype of churches than to illuminate people about the dangers of evil? At the moment I think a lot of people who don’t go to church think that church is for killjoys who are against what most people in our society have accepted. Being against Halloween could be another example of that.
I do warm to the ‘alternative’ approach. It’s more positive. But should we be consistent and also have alternatives to other major events like the celebration of a New Year (because it focuses on time not the creator of time), Valentine’s Day (because it is not about God’s love), and events like the annual cheese rolling in Gloucestershire (because it might have roots in pagan rituals)? How far do we go? I suspect I do the ‘alternative’ thing because instead of giving sweets to trick or treaters I perform a magic trick for them as a treat…
[cries of “burn him, he’s a witch, he does magic!”]
But if I embrace it fully am I unwittingly endorsing something that could be harmful? Am I supporting an event that frightens some vulnerable people (either the concept itself that is not understood or through the fear of answering doors at night)? Am I being naive?
What’s the best way of being a free sample of Jesus at this time of year?
How about instead of getting too upset about Halloween, Christians emphasise November 1 as ‘All Saints Day’ instead? How about we hold our ‘light parties’ then and we emphasise how followers of Jesus have tried to be good free samples of him through history and today? How about instead of getting our theological knickers in a twist about Halloween we put our energies into showing God’s positive alternative. Let’s redeem the event from its origins – the Eve of All Hallow’s Day.
Be blessed, be a blessing.