From Halloween to Hallelujah
There are two kinds of children in this world: those who were allowed to go trick-or-treating, and those—like me—who weren't.
As children, my sister and I spent many Halloweens in my grandparents' tiny house celebrating my grandfather (whose birthday fell on October 31st), or at Chuck E. Cheese (somehow a more Christian alternative), or, most often, at church.
That's right. Church.
Year after year, our pentecostal church, housed in the vast expanse of a former warehouse that had been carpeted and adorned with plush pink, movable interlocking chairs, hosted an event for Halloween non-celebrators called, cleverly, Hallelujah Night. There, each October 31st my friends and I gathered in what, during weekdays, was our gym (we all went to school at the church too) to do pretty much all the same stuff that non-Christians do at Halloween parties. We dressed up (like Bible characters), bobbed for apples, raced to make human mummies using too-thin toilet paper, enjoyed bags full of candy, and went home, at the end of the night, sick.
Thus, growing up, I came to believe that what was evil about Halloween must somehow relate to dressing up as anything other than obscure Bible characters (you run out of the good ones surprisingly quick) and ringing neighbors' doorbells in the evening. Driving to Hallelujah Night each year, I remember looking with pity at the children dressed like super heroes (or worse), who were trick-or-treating their way straight into the fires of hell.
This went on for years, until one year a new family joined our church that made me call into question all I believed about the evils of Halloween. New families joining the church and not falling in line with our dangerously-close-to-cultish ways was not new really, but this new family was altogether different; they were missionaries. Missionaries who let their kids trick-or-treat. They also let their kids say the forbidden word "sucks," instead of "stinks."
My parents' policy didn't change because the McDonalds let their kids trick-or-treat. Our annual Hallelujah Night tradition carried on for several more years. In fact, it wasn't until college that I finally trick-or-treated, to one house, that of my favorite English professor. My friend Dave and I both dressed up like him. He didn't get it.
I'm told that Christian parents' stance on Halloween, much like their stance on the word "suck," is changing. Of the twelve Christian college freshmen I informally polled, only one was forbidden to participate, which "sucked," she told me.
But even with the loosening restrictions around Halloween, events similar to my church's Hallelujah Night continue to flourish. And, in the age of the internet, they are now able to go global. One Halloween-alternative that has garnered some attention, particularly by those who like to mock such things, is the easily mockable "JesusWeen." Yes, they removed the part of the word "Halloween" that has its origins in "holy," but kept the "ween."
Enough people have made fun of this actually quite genuine event, and with my fond memories (and only a touch of bitterness) of my own Halloween-alternative, I won't take the bait. I bring it up only to show that even with the access to information we now have, and the variety of voices that Christian parents can tap into—which should, I often hope, help them avoid the controlling, insular church community of my youth—there is still a derision toward the harmless holiday.
The lingering result of being forbidden from celebrating Halloween is not the spook-obsession that I have seen develop in many of my childhood friends. In fact, I really don't like dressing up, eating candy, or visiting my neighbors.
This year, though, I intend to acknowledge the holiday, albeit in a different form. My wife and I will be celebrating El Día de los Muertos, the Mexican way of acknowledging All Saints Day and All Souls Day, with my fellow parishioners at St. James' Church. Last week, our rector encouraged us to bring pictures and mementos of someone who died in the past year. I'll be bringing a picture of my grandfather—he who was born on October 31st, ninety years ago—and celebrating his life and memory.
Hallelujah night, indeed.
Jonathan D. Fitzgerald is the managing editor of Patrolmag.com, and writes on the various manifestations of Christianity in culture. Follow him on Twitter or at his website, www.jonathandfitzgerald.com.