I love Halloween.
I loved Halloween as a teenager so much that I continued to dress up and Trick or Treat throughout high school and drag my friends along with me. As an adult, taking my kids out on Halloween night, it has become even more magical.
There is something special to me, in our sectioned off, walled off, individualized culture, about dressing up and going door to door. On a night in which we dress up in our worst fears, we simultaneously believe the best about each other — that candy from strangers is safe, that walking the streets at night is safe, that our neighbors are not out to get us but to welcome us in from the night with treats, that those we open our doors to our friends not fiends.
And there is something important spiritually about entering into a day that acknowledges death and fear but confronts them with candy, generosity, and creative costumes.
As with most things, Halloween is not perfect. There are, of course, some problematic costumes out there — dehumanizing costumes and deeply violent costumes. And there are some equally problematic responses from Christians to Halloween, from casting it as a night of devilish evil to constructing Hell Houses in an attempt to evangelize through terror. Both the dehumanizing racist or sexist costumes and the dehumanizing Hell Houses should be avoided, confronted, and condemned.
But for many, many people, Halloween remains a celebratory time which children and families look forward to each year. My children start talking about and planning their Halloween costumes on Oct. 1, if not sooner. I love talking with kids this time of year about what they want to be for Halloween. I love dressing up with my kids and entering into their world of zany imagination and remarkable creativity. I love hitting post-Halloween sales in order to build up our dress-up box inventory. In fact, cosplay pretty much has overtaken every holiday for us. Last year for Easter, my children had just finished reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone so they received their first broomsticks and cauldrons for wizarding. We are a family that loves dress up, so I love seeing imagination and creativity on full display around Halloween.
But like it or not, Halloween has become a major cultural even for families each year. An estimated 157 million Americans will celebrate the holiday, spending on $7 billion in the process! Churches often will attempt to insert themselves into this Halloween extravaganza by hosting Fall Festivals or Trunk or Treat events. Both of which sterilize the night and remove some of its lessons about trust, community, and goodwill in my opinion. Plus, most families know these tend to be slightly less fun versions of the real thing — Halloween night.
So one thing my previous parish did to join in the Halloween celebration was to host a service in a pumpkin patch and invite the young (in age and in spirit) to come dressed in or bring their costumes. Because we wanted the service not to be a trigger, we asked only that folks bring nonviolent, non-scary, non-racist costumes. And depending on your context, this might actually be a great time to teach about the unchecked racism and sexism in our culture. But honestly we had no issues with this, given the parameters we offered. Most children showed up in superhero or silly costumes.
During the service, we invited the children — and those who enjoy cosplay in general — come forward so we could bless their costumes with this prayer I wrote:
Holy God, whose divine imagination created the world in love and goodness, we give thanks that you delight in the joyfulness of all your children, young and old alike. Bless these Halloween costumes and the imaginations that bring them to life, assuring us that in our own creativity, we share in your divine image, in the name of the Holy Trinity. Amen.
I think this is a great way to frame and enter into Halloween theologically and pastorally. It reflects the Halloween experience for most children and families in our parishes. Halloween is also one of the few times in our world where imaginations can be at the center of a holiday and where our creativity is honored. Personally, I think church especially is a place that needs more of the creativity and imagination that can be found at Halloween.