I can understand why some people don’t participate in Halloween.
Perhaps you do. Maybe you dress up, go trick-or-treating, hand out candy, take part in Halloween activities in school or work, and spent the month of November meticulously eating your (or your kid’s) candy.
But that wasn’t my experience. I grew up in a home that intentionally didn’t participate in Halloween. Often, we wouldn’t go to school when Halloween activities were planned. We would watch movies or play games in the basement while other kids knocked on our doors hoping for candy. Sometimes we even went to churches for alternative, non-Halloween related activities.
Was I upset about this as a kid? Maybe. I always thought I missed out on something that my friends got to do. But more than that, I wanted free candy! (Although our parents always made sure they got us candy so that we wouldn’t be too envious of others). Am I upset about it now? No. I understand why our parents didn’t want us to participate in Halloween.
Halloween has its origins in ancient practices that deal with evil spirits and the dead. Trick-or-treating and jack-o-lanterns come from actual legends and rituals that are meant to bring people into contact with, or protect us from, the devil, demons, and spirits. My parents, who did not want to expose me or my brothers to those types of ideas, made sure we didn’t participate in the common Halloween traditions.
But despite being taught to stay away from Halloween traditions, this past Wednesday I handed out candy to over 50 kids who came to our door dressed up as unicorns, transformers, skeletons, and almost anything else you can imagine.
Now, no one I know who dresses up, carves pumpkins, or goes to Halloween parties actually believes in the spirituality that may be behind it. But the connection is enough to keep some Christians away. Many, like my parents, simply don’t want to associate with such dark themes or appear to support a holiday that has a link to paganism and the occult. Some Christians believe that participating in Halloween traditions can put you in danger of coming in contact with, or being threatened by, evil spirits.
I married into a family that has always valued the fun of creating costumes for Halloween and saw trick-or-treating as a family affair. It took me a while to come to terms with the fact that they had no problem participating in Halloween. They don’t like the gore or horror that often comes along with it, but they were able to ignore those parts and partake in a way that they felt comfortable.
Over the past few years, I’ve had to figure out what I really think about Halloween and whether or not I, as an adult, should hand out candy to the children in my neighbourhood. I decided that I would. But in order to do that, I needed to redeem Halloween for myself.
There are many things in life that are intended for evil or have their origins in practices which Christians don’t want to be associated with. But we should never count anything out from being used for good or for the glory of God. We have the power to create, change, and influence the meanings of object, traditions, and practices.
Trees, for example, used to be a symbol of pagan worship. But in the 8th century, as St. Boniface encountered Germans worshiping an oak tree (a symbol of Thor), he decided to chop it down to show them Thor was not a god. The people expected lightning to strike the saint, but when that didn’t happen, St. Boniface shared the story of Jesus with them. In place of that oak grew a fir tree which came to symbolize Christ. And so, the tree was redeemed from a symbol of pagan worship to become a symbol of Christ. These days, when we place Christmas trees in our homes, we also welcome Jesus to come into our midst as we remember His birth 2000 years ago.
In the Bible, Isaiah 2:4 speaks of someone who will come to bring peace. This person (who we take to be Jesus) will change our hearts and call us to redeem tools used for violence by turning them into tools for growth. We are to take our swords and beat them into ploughshares. Today, there are even some movements that take guns and turning them into farming tools.
So how might this work with Halloween? Well, we can’t deny the history of Halloween or the fact that some might still see this day as connected to the occult, witchcraft, or devil worship. But in our neighbourhoods, what does redeeming this evening actually look like?
For me and my wife, it’s the one day of the year that the neighbours come out of their houses to engage with each other. It’s the best day to get to know the children in the neighbourhood and to make an impression as a good neighbour - and as Christians, being a good neighbour is a no-brainer.
For me, to redeem Halloween is to reject the spirituality of it and to simply see it as a way to interact with the community, be friendly, compliment children, make them feel special, and bring a spirit of friendship to the neighbourhood. It’s also a chance for the neighbours to see who lives at our house, so that they don’t only think of us as strangers.
You never know who will show up at your front door. Sure, some kids might stop by dressed as witches, devils, ghosts, or zombies, but they don’t actually believe that they are those things. What’s important is who’s underneath and how you treat them. You don’t really know who they are, what kind of family they come from, what school is like for them, or what their social life is like. How might your interaction with them as their neighbour show them a glimpse of the Kingdom of God?
The message of Jesus is that He redeems. He redeems us and this world by giving us new life and a new call as Christians. I believe we can do the same with Halloween as we have done with many other things, by re-purposing what might have been meant for evil, and to use it for good instead. For me, that means changing the narrative of Halloween to one of hospitality and friendship. And I believe we have the freedom and the ability to do that.