It’s almost Halloween, and kids everywhere are already bracing for the impending sugar rush that is about to commence. This is also the time where Christians sometimes begin discussing the holiday, often leaving the impression that there are two options for the Christian.
Of course, the fundamentalists go bonkers at Halloween; last year someone gave me a tract that said it was the high-holiday for satanism and that cats would disappear throughout the neighborhood as the satanist conducted their yearly sacrifice (maybe Satan is a dog person too?). So, safe to say that most fundamentalists will be hiding out with the front lights off as if Halloween were that first night of passover where no one wanted to be caught outside when the spirit of death came.
Progressives on the other hand are also prone to have strong opinions on Halloween, which can often be summarized by “lighten up, folks.” Since the fundamentalist response can be so over-the-top and based on make-believe facts, I can appreciate the “lighten up” argument, but also find it to be somewhat shallow. For me, I am a Christian who stands somewhere in an awkward middle, recognizing that both sides have a worthwhile point.
Halloween isn’t a satanic holiday– it’s one that has both pagan and Christian roots. The reason why it has both is because most holidays have both– including Christmas, Easter, etc. The early Christians did this strategically as a way to influence culture; instead of creating something new, they found ways to take existing pagan celebrations, and slowly turn them Christian (in this case, the Christian holiday is All Hallows’ Eve or All Saints Day).
However, the expressions we see in modern culture at Halloween are anything but Christian, and this creates the awkward middle where I find myself.
A few years ago I was hosting a colleague from India as we were both speaking at a conference in the week leading up to Halloween. As we drove through town, she was shocked at some of the Halloween displays– the depictions of violence, darkness and gore. She turned to me and asked, “how is it that your culture can’t see there’s something wrong with this?”
Honestly, I didn’t have an answer. The reality is that our cultural expressions at Halloween have grown so extreme, that it should (in my mind) be prompting a different set of questions for us. For example, just a few weeks ago a dead body was found chained to a fence– but people didn’t report it right away because they thought it was a Halloween decoration! That’s not the first time this has happened either. Previously a woman who committed suicide was left hanging in a tree because people thought it was a decoration, or then there was the case of a 75 year old who shot himself on his balcony but was left there for days, because everyone thought it was a Halloween decoration.
Here’s the deal: if Halloween has become a holiday where actual dead bodies are ignored as decorations, there needs to be force within that culture subversively pushing against those expressions. Of course, I think that’s the role of a Christian– to be people within a culture but not products of that culture; people who seek every opportunity to inject beauty into the world around us.
I would hope that if we’re actually confusing murder and suicide victims with decorations, Christians of ALL stripes and flavors would come together and say, “Yeah, something about this isn’t right. Maybe we should be an alternative expression to this kind of stuff.”
So, should Christians hunker down in fundamentalist bunkers until Halloween is over? No.
Should Christians be people who participate in Halloween in the same way as the violent and gory culture around us participates? I would submit the answer is also, no.
There is a middle ground on the issue of Halloween that I hope more Christians will find. Halloween is an opportunity to spend time with family, friends, your kids, and your neighbors– and I’d hope Christians wouldn’t pass up those opportunities; Jesus certainly didn’t. However, we can participate in ways that do not further contribute to the extreme expressions that are often seen at Halloween. We can even participate in ways that counteract it.
While Halloween isn’t some satanic holiday, there is something very dark in the way our culture adorns on it– and as Christians, we’re invited to be the light of the world.
So, find ways to go be light on Halloween!
Have fun with your kids. Spend time with your family. Use the opportunity to interact with your neighbors and the other children in your neighborhood. Load up on enough free candy that you’ll be set until Christmas.
But as Christians, may we find ways to do it differently than how others do it.
Let us, the people of Jesus, be out and about at Halloween. However, instead of expressions of death, violence, and darkness, let us use the opportunity to bear witness to life, beauty and goodness.
Part of our job in this world is to inject beauty whenever and wherever we find the opposite– and I see no expression that needs a beautiful alternative more than the darkness and gore expressed at Halloween.
Dr. Benjamin L Corey is the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith. You can preorder your copy today. Details are right here.