Many families who ‘celebrate’ Halloween don’t actually think about what they’re celebrating. For them, Halloween may be an opportunity to offer hospitality, and to build a greater sense of community with friends and neighbours. (Both of which are Christian values!) We may distance ourselves from Halloween events for good reason, but in so doing, we exclude ourselves from these neighbourhood gatherings, and lose an opportunity to share our message of light and hope. And from the perspective of our children, they miss out on what looks like innocuous fun. Perhaps it’s worth asking ourselves – would Jesus attend a Halloween party?
Q: How do you feel about Halloween?
Q: How do your kids feel about Halloween?
Q: How have you responded in the past?
At the start of October we held an evening at church for parents to explore Christian responses to Halloween. These are the notes from that evening. Please bear in mind that there are a variety of Christian responses to Halloween – and all are valid! What follows is some of my recent thinking.
These notes are written from my perspective – a mum of two primary aged children. They are concerned with how we – as parents – respond to invitations to Halloween parties, requests to go trick or treating, and Halloween themed activities or events at school, clubs or places we visit. They don’t deal with the issue of how we respond to teenage ‘trick or treaters’ on our doorstep.
Q: If we exclude ourselves from Halloween events what message does it send to those who aren’t Christians? Is it a positive message?
Q: Are there any good aspects to Halloween celebrations (like neighbourliness) that we miss out on?
Q: Is there a ‘dark side’ to Halloween? What is it? Do those celebrating Halloween recognise that or think about it?
The roots of Halloween are somewhat unclear. Like Christmas, it’s a festival that appears to have both pagan and Christian roots. It seems that Christians took over the pagan festival of Samhain, a Celtic festival of harvest that marked the end of the summer months, and the beginning of the dark half of the year. At Samhain people did a variety of things – lighting fires, dressing up and carrying lanterns – to ward off evil. This festival was then taken over by Christians to mark the beginning of the three day celebration of Hallowmas, which includes All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day (when Christian who have died are remembered) and All Souls Day (when the recently deceased are remembered).
To find out more about what Christians did on All Hallows Eve, and why, watch this video:
It’s interesting to see that the origins of Halloween were celebrating the power of Jesus in the face of evil and death, and mocking all things ‘dark’. So what do Christians believe about evil and death?
• Evil is real and should be taken seriously
• Evil corrupts every part of life – nothing is immune from it
• Evil is expressed through sin – Christians still sin! Keeping separate from certain things doesn’t protect us, as sin is in our hearts
• God is more powerful than evil – Jesus is the proof of that, the resurrection is the visible sign of that
• This hope outweighs our fears
• God is making all things new. We look forward to a new creation that evil has no part in.
• Good things can be found in the world. (Phil. 4:8)
So what could we do in response to Halloween? I think there are three main options:
1. Keep our distance, and tell people why. We don’t want to celebrate darkness and bad things.
2. Join in like everyone else… but make sure our children understand the roots of Halloween and what we believe about evil. E.g. We don’t need to be frightened about these things, because Jesus is stronger than them. Re-read the story of the cross and resurrection. Put a theology around what is happening.
3. Do it, but do it differently… transform it and redeem it – emphasise the good and eliminate the bad.
What does the third option look like in practice? Here are a few ideas…
• Host a Halloween party with a fancy dress theme (e.g. favourite character from a book) and have autumnal games. The aim of this is to use Halloween as an opportunity to build community and get to know your neighbours. One church member has suggested dressing up as a martyred saints (still lots of blood!) rather than ghosts and vampires.
• Try reverse trick or treating – give sweets away instead! Think about visiting the homes of friends and neighbours to take them something nice. This could be pre-arranged in advance.
• Carve pumpkins with funny (not scary) faces. You could use this following pumpkin prayer while you do:
As I carve my pumpkin,
Help me pray this prayer:
Open my mind so I can learn about you (Cut off the top of the pumpkin)
Take all my sin and forgive the wrong that I do (Clean out the inside)
Open my eyes so your love I will see (Cut eyes shaped like hearts)
I’m sorry for times I’ve turned up my nose at what you’ve given to me (Cut a nose in the shape of a cross)
Open my ears so your word I will hear (Cut ears shaped like the Bible)
Open my mouth to tell others you’re near (Cut the mouth in the shape of a fish)
Let your light shine in all I say and do! Amen (Place a candle inside and light it)
• Do what someone in our congregation does, if you have ‘trick or treaters’ give out goody bags with good things in. Bless people with something unexpected!
• Use Halloween to talk with your children about the things that scare them (you could even do this round the dinner table by candlelight!) then talk or pray about Jesus being stronger than those things.
• Use the evening to have a family film night. Watch a film that has a ‘good vs. evil’ theme (e.g. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games etc. Explain that you’ve chosen that film, because at Halloween we remember that good is stronger than evil, and God is more powerful than anything scary.
If we choose to do any of these things, we ought to have a rule of thumb that no one should be frightened by them.
Look back at the three approaches that are outlined above.
Q: What are the positives and negatives of those three approaches?
Q: Which one are you drawn to?
Remember that there is a spectrum of Christian responses to Halloween. The key thing is to explain to your children what you do (or don’t do) and why, and to remind them that God is stronger than anything evil.