Opinion piece: Among Christian circles, there’s a lot of noise made about Halloween. Supposedly it’s demonic, or dangerous in some way, or against our faith, but as someone who is familiar with actual demonic activity, I disagree.
Back in missionary days, in South-East Asia, I came across plenty of demonic activity. I met men and women completely possessed by spirits, and cast those foul beings out. I know that spiritual stench all too well, but I’ve never detected it at a kids’ costume party!
In my view, we fight all the wrong battles, distracted from love and service by spiritual sensationalism. If we just concentrated on the heart of our faith – growing to be more like Jesus, and being a sure refuge of love in our communities – we’d not feel threatened by such small matters. We’d be a shining city on a hill.
Typically, churches and some Christian households put on a ‘Light Night’ in place of Halloween, often inviting guests to dress up as Biblical characters. Supposedly this is a witness to the world, marking us out as different, but there are differences worth being marked out for, and differences that make us look, frankly, weird. When we file into Light Night with towels round our heads, gripping shepherds’ crooks, we advertise ourselves as silly and irrelevant.
In real terms, a skeleton costume is about as demonic as a sponge cake. And then there’s the peculiar obsession with Harry Potter, which according to many is ‘of the Devil’, ‘celebrating the occult’, or ‘spiritually dangerous’. This is ridiculous. Anyone who’s read C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia has dabbled in fantasy. Yes, there are parallels with the Christian faith, and Aslan is meant to be Jesus, but there are also magic wardrobes, a nasty witch, and half-men/goats, which stem from Roman mythology.
The term ‘faun’ is derived from Faunus, an ancient deity of forests, fields, and herds, who from the 2nd century BC was associated with the Greek god, Pan. C.S. Lewis was a classically educated man, and in his autobiographical work, Surprised By Joy, writes at length about the pleasure he derived from reading ancient mythology, and particularly Norse mythology. According to Lewis, joy was awakened in him by those age-old stories, and he relates that experience directly to knowing God. When he wrote about Mr Tumnus, he was not making a parallel to the Christian Gospel, but digging into his deep delight in ancient, pagan mythology.
And what of J.R.R. Tolkien? Like Lewis, he was a practicing Christian; in fact, the two men were great friends, and used to meet in the Turf Tavern in Oxford to drink beer and discuss the progress of their work – Lord of the Rings, and the Chronicles of Narnia. C.S. Lewis was known to be rather disparaging about Tolkien’s elves, but I won’t quote his actual words, as they are somewhat beyond the permissions of Patheos’ content guidelines.
Stories of extraordinary landscapes, fantastical people and magical powers awaken a child’s sense of wonder and develop their imaginations. Good values can be taught through such tales, but there is value in wonder itself. A child caught up in a fantastical story is joyful, engaged, and in the moment, experiencing life exactly as a child ought to, in innocence and simplicity.
(Aside: Most Christian parents I know still tell their kids that Santa Claus is real. Personally, I found that hard, because rather than present my lad with what he understood was a fictional story (such as Harry Potter), I was presenting fiction as fact. I was lying to him, but my better half laid down the law, and I complied. In a way, I was relieved when he worked out Santa wasn’t real, but saddened when the realisation stole some of the wonder from his heart. I’m not saying we should ban Santa, but it seems odd to me that we object so strongly to something kids understand is just a bit of fun, dabbling in fiction and dressing up in costumes, while happily telling them a magic man flies through the sky to bring them presents every year. Seems like a bizarre disconnect, to me.)
A child who grows up attending Light Nights, being taught to shun (and fear?) Halloween, who is banned from Harry Potter and other such tales because they are ‘dangerous’, will have a good chance of becoming a fragile person, nervous about a great many things they’ve learned to perceive as a threat. They will not be able to join in with their peers, when they attend costume parties, or the group conversation when the latest book is being discussed. They are likely to feel excluded, left behind, and different, and will be unprepared for the challenges of adulthood, once out of the padded environments of their youth.
Unless your kids are invited to an actual séance, a Halloween party is just a bit of light-hearted fun. If you let them attend, they will thank you for it, and be more well-rounded people in the long run.