Until I had children and there were church and preschool events that included costumes and candy - certainly not embracing the darker parts of Halloween, but enjoying the fun, innocent side. And so we got a costume for our then two-year-old daughter. We attended a couple of kids' parties. We went Trunk or Treating at a nearby church. Cute. Fun. Innocent. And definitely a time when you can get to know your neighbors.
So why do I still feel like I am putting up with Halloween, anxious to get past it to November 1? I've really given it some thought this year, and I think I've finally figured out where I am at. And at the risk of muddying the waters and adding fuel to the fire, here are my thoughts about why I'm just not into this particular celebration. No judgment if you participate, really. And I am actually very interested in hearing the ways people find to "redeem" this celebration and use it for God's glory, because I may be there someday. But here is where I am right now.
- It's not just the history. I know the Pagan history of this celebration (although I've also read one interesting article recently suggesting that its history could go all the way back to the early days after Noah and the Flood). I also know that some of our Christmas traditions also have Pagan roots, so just set that to rest right now and don't tell me that if I have a Christmas tree (we do), then we should find a way to do Halloween, because it's not the history for me.
- It's not about who else celebrates it. I know it's a high holiday for pagan religions and satanists (and I know those are not the same thing), but seriously, the average family doing Halloween stuff is not participating in any of that, and if it were just that, that alone would not prevent me from having fun with it.
- It's not a lack of caring for my neighbors. I've read some very convincing articles in the last several days, asking what kind of witness it is for followers of Jesus to hunker down with the shades drawn instead of going out and loving on your neighbors on one of the few nights of the year when everyone's on the streets and hanging out together. Why not be a part of the celebration? Point taken. If we want to have an impact on the world, we can't be hiding from our neighbors. Of course, that needs to be true the other 364 days of the year, too, in which case being absent one day of the year really shouldn't make that big a difference. But those articles have convicted me of my need to reach out more to my neighbors and to my community. But even that can't get me over the main hurdles I have about this particular day.
So what exactly is my hang-up with Halloween?
- It's the darkness of the day. What would Halloween be without witches and goblins and ghosts and other spooky stuff? Take away all the spooky stuff and you have...fall. Hmm. It's hard to avoid it, from stores to schools to neighborhood decorations. One reason I don't want to take my children trick or treating is that I don't know what to expect in the spooky department going from house to house. Even at church Trunk-n-Treat events, we have encountered witches and ghosts. The day celebrates things that are dark and gruesome and opposed to God when He tells us to set our minds on things that are good and pure and lovely (Philippians 4:4-8). I have a hard time with that. (Note to churches - if you have Halloween "alternative" events, please make it a real alternative by bypassing all the spooky decor and not giving a "best costume" award to anyone dressed as an evil character. I'm not saying don't let them in (especially if you're trying to have an outreach!), but at the same time, don't worry about offending someone who sent their kid dressed up as a vampire by saying only wholesome costumes are eligible for a prize. It's your party - you're allowed to make the rules and to decide what will and won't glorify God.)
- It's the focus on death. Zombies, ghosts, horror flicks, tombstones, haunted houses. Ugh. My revulsion to this is partly because death is not entertaining or fun or cute to me. Death is the enemy, overcome by Jesus on the cross, but still an enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26). And my association with this enemy is just too close. I've buried one child and said goodbye to two others before I could hold them. Some of my closest friends have done the same. I've attended too many funerals of friends, victims of cancer or drunk driving or other tragedies. Also, Halloween comes at the end of the month set aside for Breast Cancer Awareness and Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness, and after a month of focusing on those fighting death and those who have been impacted by it, I'm just so done with death and darkness. I'm ready to move on to Thanksgiving and Christmas, the season of light and life.
- It's the ambiguity for my children. I can easily make an argument that when children do Halloween, especially if it is at "safe" church events, it is fun and cute and creative. Dressing up in a costume and getting candy for free - you can't get any better than that in the mind of a five-year-old. But at some point, Halloween shifts from cute and innocent to dark and gruesome, and I'm not sure exactly when that happens. Upper elementary? Middle school? It's the same holiday, so at what point do I tell my children that the celebration is no longer appropriate? Even if I make sure they wear good non-scary costumes year after year, the focus in society gradually shifts to more and more darkness as children get older. Like the proverbial frog in the pot, when is the water hot enough to make you want to get out? And how does that apply to other decisions about what we do and don't participate in, finding a way to be in the world, but not of it? I'm not saying it can't be done, but I'm not comfortable with the ambiguity.
Now, all that said - our daughter did go to a church Trunk-n-Treat his year and has several more costumes on hold just in case. We have a Winnie the Pooh Halloween movie (given to her by someone, not bought by us) that she loves. We've dipped our toes in the Halloween waters more than I ever thought I would with my childhood background. But I think I'm ready to pull back again and create our own family traditions - maybe focusing on the Reformation, or on telling stories about family members who have gone to Heaven or reading books about Heaven, or about Noah and the Flood, or just a fun family movie night. I'm not passing judgment on anyone who wants to participate in the festivities, and not even saying that we won't join in an occasional activity, depending on the circumstances. But as a whole, it's not working for me, at least not in this season of life.
So, especially to my brothers and sisters in Christ, if we pass each other on October 31, your kids in costume and mine not, I'm not looking down on you as if you are unbiblical, and please don't feel sorry for us, as if we are tied to some kind of legalistic outlook. Like so much else in life, we are each finding the best way for our family to follow the Lord, not only on Halloween, but all year long. And with the season of Thanksgiving and Christmas just around the corner, we have a lot to celebrate together, don't we?