This article originally appeared in the September/October 2015 issue of Vital magazine. For more fresh print content, subscribe here.
Halloween doesn't make my list of favorite holidays. I don't do scary, can't stand spooky and steer clear of creepy.
Some parents decorate their houses with cobwebs, spiders, ghosts and witches on brooms. Not me. I draw the line at pumpkins. They're not scary, and they make delicious pies.
My son, Reese, on the other hand, loves Halloween. Loves.
When Sam's Club puts costumes on sale in July - July!?! - he picks through them carefully, trying to figure out what he's going to be. (In case you're wondering, this year he'll be a Star WarsStormtrooper.) Then there's the candy. I'm pretty sure he's still feasting on the hoard of sugary sweet cavity-makers he trick-or-treated from our neighbors last year.
Mostly, though, he loves Halloween because of the people. Reese is an only child and an extrovert extraordinaire. He's never met a stranger. We live on a cul-de-sac where 19 kids under 12 live in 10 contiguous houses. Open the front door during good weather, and there's an all-day party of boys and girls running wild in the street. On Halloween, they trick-or-treat together, a roving gang of littles with moms and dads in tow. After dark, Reese stands at our door and waits for knocks, handing out candy to the older kids. Last year, I'd say a couple hundred kids knocked on our door. Reese was in Halloween heaven.
Evil to Avoid?
Not all Christians are as blasé about Halloween as I am. For some, Halloween is an evil to avoid, not a holiday to celebrate. Witchcraft is an obvious reason why. Scripture forbids seeking out "mediums" and "spiritists" (Lev. 19:31). It lists "witchcraft" as one of the "acts of the flesh" (Gal. 5:19-21). And it teaches us to repent of "sorcery" by both positive (Acts 19:17-20) and negative (Rev. 9:21) examples.
Furthermore, some Christians argue, Halloween has pagan roots. Samhain (pronounced either SAW- in or SOW-in) was a Gaelic festival that marked the beginning of winter. Celebrated from sunset on October 31 to sunset on November 1, Samhain was thought to be a time when the spirits of the dead had greater access to the world of the living. Medieval Catholics "Christianized" this pagan holiday by turning it into All Hallows Eve (i.e., Halloween, Oct. 31) and All Hallows or All Saints Day (Nov. 1).
Or so the argument goes; I'm not totally sold on its accuracy.
Regardless, if Halloween is only about sorcery and paganism, I'm out. "[T]urn from evil and do good" (1 Pet. 3:11) is a rock-solid biblical principle that I totally agree with and am teaching my son. Christian integrity demands that we avoid becoming entangled with evil.
But principles have to be applied correctly, and I'm not sure that's always the case with Halloween. Sometimes, to put it simply, a kid in a costume asking for candy is just a kid in a costume asking for candy.
Other Christians take a different approach. The churches my husband and I have attended over the years often provided an alternative to Halloween. Harvest Festival included BBQ, popcorn, carnival-style games and rides, and "trunk-or-treating" - basically, trick-or-treating out of the back of a car. The large church we attended welcomed well over 1,000 church members and families from the community every year.
When we lived in Southern California, we liked Harvest Festival for a number of reasons. Many of the kids in the surrounding cities lived in neighborhoods where the streets weren't safe. Or, they lived in neighborhoods where only a few people handed out candy.
If I didn't allow Reese to trick-or-treat, or if I insisted on taking him to Harvest Festival at church instead, I'd miss the opportunity to be present, build relationships and have fun with my neighbors.
By holding Harvest Festival in the church's parking lot, these kids and their families could have a safe, enjoyable experience.
The added benefit was that the church developed a good reputation in the community. Church members found it easy to invite their neighbors to this event. Unchurched neighbors who enjoyed the event would think of our church first when it came to other holidays like Christmas and Easter. When life events such as births, weddings and funerals prompted spiritual longings in them, they'd turn to us. In short, our church saw Halloween as an outreach opportunity and made the most of it.
But when we moved from Southern California to Missouri, we moved from a non-kid-friendly neighborhood to a super-kid-friendly one. That changed my perspective about Halloween, among other things.
Like I said above, our cul-de-sac has tons of kids. In good weather, while the kids play, we sit outside and talk to one another until it's time for dinner. On the Fourth of July, we have a neighborhood barbecue and fireworks show. (Given that this is Missouri, we're talking bomb-size explosions, by the way.) And, as I mentioned, on Halloween, we go trick-or-treating en masse. We do things together.
If I didn't allow Reese to trick-or-treat, or if I insisted on taking him to Harvest Festival at church instead, I'd miss the opportunity to be present, build relationships and have fun with my neighbors. When yours is the only house with its front porch lights off on Halloween, trust me, your neighbors notice. And not in a good way.
Jesus began His ministry by going to a wedding and turning water into wine (John 2:1-12). The apostle John speaks of this miracle as "the first of the signs through which [Jesus] revealed his glory." The water Jesus used for the miracle came from "six stone water jars, the kind used by Jews for ceremonial washing." John is telling us that Jesus' ministry is better than the ministry of Moses' law; new covenant "wine" is sweeter than old covenant "water."
I can't help but think that John is also telling us something about how to attract people to Jesus, however. Jesus didn't absent himself from the wedding. Nor did he invite the guests to an alternative location. He showed up in their city, at their event, in their home, and by His presence brought them great joy. That's why people found Him to be such an attractive personality. And that's how we ought to live in imitation of Him.
Will Your Light Be On?
I think I can summarize what I've been trying to say in three sentences: If Halloween is evil, we Christians can't participate. If a neighborhood is unwelcoming, our churches can provide safe alternatives to it. But if neither of these things is the case, I propose this: Consider staying home and putting the porch light on.
That's what we'll be doing come Oct. 31. We'll be welcoming costumed kids to our door and showering them with candy and making memories. I believe neighborhoods will be better off because of such joyful presence.
Feel free to stop by.
Tiffany Allison Wood is a licensed foster parent. She lives in Springfield, Missouri, with her husband, son and two fur kids.