Hi, my name is Jack and I am a confessional, Calvinistic, Post-Millennial, Presbyterian. Which, if you have your Christian denominational decoder-ring on, means you already may think I’m a stick-in-the-mud when it comes to having a good time. Many associate Reformed theology with stuffed-shirt, nerds who forgot how to relate with normal people a long time ago. Ok, this is fair. While I don’t think (hope) I’m too much of a buzzkill, I’ve met my fair share of them and can appreciate the Reformed Christian stereotype.
For many, the holiday season brings out the worst; some Christians can be outright insufferable this time of year! Like the friend that can’t stop talking about CrossFit, it can seem impossible to carry a single conversation without them interjecting opinions about the pagan nature of Halloween and Christmas and their direct homage to Satan. While I truly appreciate their desire for piety and the convictions of their hearts, the holiday season remains my favorite time of the year.
To be fair, Halloween and Christmas do have pagan influence and are commercially driven, money-making machines. But this is hardly unique. Likely, the brand of clothes you’re wearing, if you were to seek it out, would yield un-Christian roots and values held by its designer/manufacturer. Yet, we can wear/promote them with little consideration of their maker’s values. I think the same can be true of holidays. It’s entirely possible, and maybe even wise, to utilize what is helpful and do away with what isn’t. While my clothes analogy is not perfect, the fact remains that outside of the institution of the church, there are few events, institutions, products, or celebrations not tainted by this broken world. Navigating through them with wisdom can be difficult. Halloween, in particular, is a dark reminder of the challenging dichotomy that permeates throughout all the Christian life: living in the world, but not being part of it.
For Christians wishing to altogether avoid pagan-rooted holidays, Halloween is the easiest to eliminate. The day is littered with images of death, demons, trickery, and violence – all things which, admittedly, are not associated with the church and wholesomeness. For most, whatever drummed up spiritual connotations are attached to the day are usually those of wickedness and not godliness. So, in a desire to remain unstained from the world, many boycott Halloween or create some weird Christianized variation of it (what does Trunk-or-Treat mean, anyway?). Yet, in their well-intentioned desire of devoutness, I fear many in the church are overlooking something. Built within the cliché traditions of Halloween are wonderful opportunities to foster real, life-giving community.
I live in a neighborhood that is essentially a circle of about 50 houses. Every year, all the kids and parents meet up and go trick-or-treating house by house. One of the kids (usually in a Spiderman outfit or some equivalent) will knock on the door and offer the customary phrase to receive a few pieces of candy. Then, the adults will spend a few minutes catching up with the neighbor while the kids revel over their new candy treasures. We even have a few (very popular) neighbors who sit outside with a pot of warm apple cider to greet as others come by! It’s delightful! My wife and I look forward to Halloween every year.
If you boycott Halloween or plan to spend the evening holed up in some church function, I urge you to reconsider. Think about it: Halloween is one day a year when all of your neighbors will gladly open their doors to you, or vice-versa. It’s a tremendous opportunity to talk, invest, and get to know them. For a culture that prides itself on the power and strength of the individual, Halloween is a true anomaly. No other holiday has such a focus on community involvement. Even Christmas, for all its wondrous joy, tends to be an inclusive family-centric event. Not to mention, when Halloween is celebrated tastefully, it can be great fun.
One objection I can already hear brewing is that while you may desire to celebrate tastefully, your neighbors do not. There is concern in exposing yourself or children to the evil/dark imagery of Halloween. This is a valid concern and one worth praying about. I recall one Halloween a few years ago when one of our neighbors took things too far. He started silently stalking the group in a “Jason Mask”; it frightened the children a great deal. I made it a point to say something to the guy – as most of the kids in the group were under 6 years old at the time. He understood, apologized, and stopped immediately. Later that night, when we got home, my kids were still a little shaken up and we had to speak to them about it; it wasn’t pleasant. But, the truth is, building community is often messy and unpleasant. Such things are reminders of the dark world that we called to be a light unto.
As much as I would like to shield my children (and myself) from the evils of the world, I will never be able to perfectly do this. I can limit exposure, but I cannot create immunity. Parenting and shepherding our children’s hearts is a gradual process of godly instruction and letting go. The moment a child leaves the womb, we begin relinquishing control. I would rather my children observe some of the dark ugliness of our world while I can still offer gospel-center instruction, then to face it for the first time alone. If I can help show them how to cling to Christ, while cultivating the gospel within a dark world, I will have done well. Certainly, every family and situation is different, and you should do what you believe to be God-honoring. My hope here is not to alter your conscience, but rather, to give you food-for-thought as to how Christians can redeem Halloween.
As the people of God, we were never meant to hide from the culture. We’re called to go into and redeem it! This Halloween, if your conscience allows, I encourage you to make the most of the holiday. Use it to build community and have fun. Christians ought to be the life of the party – literally! If you don’t have children to walk around a neighborhood (or feel safe doing so), use the evening to serve the visitors that come to your house. You might be surprised at how just a little cup of warm apple cider and/or a pleasant conversation will warm someone’s soul. Get to know your neighbors, love them, and share with them the peace of Christ that surpasses understanding.