Three Approaches to Halloween

I think it’s safe for me to assume that it won’t have escaped your notice that it’s Halloween. Casting aside all that’s decent, those inherently demonic colours; black, orange and purple are allowed to adorn our high street stores once again. As you might imagine the blogosphere is awash with opinion pieces on what we as Christians should or shouldn’t be doing with Halloween. I’m aware that there’ll be a range of opinions in our own church

As I understand it, there are in general three ways that we can choose to respond.

1.       We can receive Halloween uncritically

We can just adopt it into our lives as though it doesn’t really present a challenge to our Christian discipleship. Many do. And they’re still Christian brothers and sisters. For example, some of our North American brethren can’t quite understand why we get our knickers in a twist about the whole affair. They’ll happily dress up as a zombie and go to a Halloween themed supper party. And they don’t think they’ve committed apostasy by doing so. I agree. Then they point out that when a child is ‘Trick or Treating’ their thoughts are not taken up with the satanic but with sweets. And they have a point. But it’s not that simple, is it? And yet, we can understand where they’re coming from. Christians have a history of sticking out like a sore thumb when we don’t need to. We’re good at the ‘spot it and stop it’ campaigns. And we paint ourselves in a less than flattering light when we define ourselves by what we’re against. And that’s worth taking on board. We’re often stronger at saying what we’re against than we are in saying what we’re for.  And that’s a horrible distortion of holiness. But I’m not sure that we can simply absorb Halloween and pretend that there’s nothing wrong with it or our participation in it. We can’t be indistinct from our non-Christians friends because the gospel changes how we view life. And so that’ll have some impact at least on this event.

2.       We can reject Halloween unreservedly

Some of us simply can’t get beyond its association with evil. In our minds, Halloween will forever be a celebration of what’s wicked. And we’re understandably uncomfortable about that. And so we go to the other extreme. We reject Halloween outright. We argue that it has no place in the Christian life. And yet, it’s not quite as simple as that, is it? The day itself isn’t inherently evil, is it? The practice of small children visiting neighbourhood houses and threatening mild violence if you don’t cross their palms with sugary goodness isn’t ideal. Some would argue that it’s extortion. And they’d have a point. But it’s a game. Mixing purple and orange is a crime for which the fashion police might want to take you to one side. But the act of dressing up and using our imaginations to tell stories isn’t inherently evil either? If it was then the discussion ‘what part should we have with it?’ would be mercifully short. But I’m hugely sympathetic to those that want to keep this day at arms’ length from themselves and their children. I’ve said before that we mainstream the morbid when we set aside sensible protective boundaries to bring the unsavoury aspects of death into full view. We domesticate evil when we bring Satan into our lives in such a way that we forget just how rabidly ferocious he is. And we trivialise evil when we portray the devil and the wickedness he seeks to promote as a bit of fun. Of the two extreme positions, I have more sympathy with rejecting rather than receiving Halloween. But perhaps there’s a third way!

3.       We can redeem Halloween unambiguously

The church has a history of hijacking pagan festivals and turning them to good ends. It’s hard to say whether it’s worked with Christmas. But even amongst the most hardened secularist they’d be forced to admit that it’s now got something to do with the birth of Jesus Christ. I’m glad for the opportunities to talk about the gospel because Christmas enjoys a hallowed place in our country’s calendar. And so, it may be that we’re able to do something similar with Halloween. But it’s not that simple though, is it? After all, there are some really unpleasant elements to the celebration of Halloween. And so, it’s worth asking whether we can, in good conscience, be involved in the day in such a way that we don’t compromise but neither do we celebrate evil. What that looks like precisely is open for discussion. For us, we won’t let our kids go ‘Trick or Treating’ because I don’t want to set them on a trajectory for organised crime! And we won’t let them dress up in costumes that minimise the wickedness of evil or that scare younger children. But when children come to our door, though I’m nervous just what I’ll find when I open it, I’ll have prepared our kids for what to expect. We’ll happily hand out sweets (though my preference is to give them fruit and remind them that the reason they’re dead is probably because they failed to eat their five-a-day!) We’ll comment on their costumes and commend them for the effort they’ve gone to or criticise them where that’s appropriate. And we’ll have a conversation about evil. I’ll remind them that wickedness never wins and that Satan is a loser because Jesus kicked his backside once and for all on the cross. And I’ll happily do that if their parents are there or not. They’re the ones who brought the supernatural into the discussion; they can hardly blame me if I choose to take it further. And we’ll hand out a flier from the Good Book Company that tries to move seamlessly from Halloween to the gospel.

Have you thought about what you’re going to do yet?

Whatever we choose to do, I hope that we’re able to bear with one another in love. I think we can have a healthy discussion about what’s appropriate and what’s not. But I trust we’ll do it in a spirit of encouragement; helping one another to live for Christ not hindering one another’s progress in godliness through any judgmental dismissiveness.

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