This article was originally posted on youthworker.com.
It is impossible to walk through a retail store these days and not be overwhelmed with Halloween. Since the beginning of September, aisles of orange and black decorations, bags of candy and costumes have been calling out to my children, building excitement and expectation for their dream holiday. For my kids, Halloween is a simple holiday that involves their two favorite things: candy and dressing up. For Christians, however, Halloween seems to be a bit more complicated.
No matter how you slice it, Halloween has a dark and seedy past. Its history can be traced to a Roman festival that involved worshiping the goddess of fruits and seeds, a pagan festival of the dead or a Celtic festival celebrating the end of summer. This latter part isn’t that bad, but the celebration of the spirit world coming close to the living world is. It’s difficult to encourage recognizing a holiday that has many touch points with the occult. How can Christians get behind a holiday that, at best…OK, there isn’t anything we can get behind in the history of Halloween.
However, as bad as it seems there might be another way we can look at Halloween—and I don’t mean to pretend we are against it publicly while we quietly celebrate it with our friends and family (like a good wine). I think there is a way we can celebrate and even promote Halloween in a way that honors God and might even bring the kingdom of God closer to your neighborhood.
Before you call my supervising pastor and get me fired, humor me for one minute. How many of us Christians have Christmas trees as part of our family tradition and home decoration? If you Google “Christmas Tree Pagan,” you will find there are more than 3,000,000 sites.
A quick view of these sites will afford many stories and traditions in which evergreens were used in worship and celebration as a symbol of life in the midst of death. In ancient Rome and Egypt, there were traditions of tree worship and burning sacred logs. The most worrisome history is that of Odin, a German god who required sacrifices to a sacred Oak tree. Even though the history of the Christmas tree is shady, it has been recast in a Christian light so that by the 18th and 19th centuries, the Christmas tree had become a fully accepted part of the Christmas celebration.
Christians transitioned the Tree of Odin to a tree with some vague inferences to Christianity so that now all is well with decorating a Christmas tree. The goal was to take a cultural norm with pagan symbols and use it to tell the Christian story, similar to what the apostle Paul did when he used culture to proclaim truth (Acts 17:22-23). In a similar way, that is what we need to do with Halloween; but simply transitioning Halloween to a Harvest Festival to make it more tolerable might be a missed opportunity.
If our cultural context had many touch points to spirit and ancestor worship, goddess worship or occult practices, then celebrating Halloween might be a tough sell. However, in the context here—suburban America—Halloween has nothing to do with anything except candy and playing make-believe. The primary people who are concerned about the darker issues are Christians. Because pagan worship has nothing to do with the world in which most Americans live and because Halloween is observed more as a secular holiday with zero spiritual overtones, maybe we could embrace it and use it as a place for Christians to impact their communities.
Halloween actually could be our holiday, a holiday of hospitality. With hospitality being one of the Christian virtues that is fading away, Halloween could be the holiday during which we embrace our neighbors, when we get to break down some of the barriers that have built up between us and those people who live on our street, when we get to be a blessing to them. In a time when we are less likely to be known by people in our own neighborhood and our neighbors are less likely to be known by us, Halloween could be the perfect holiday to rebuild that bridge.
Halloween could be our holiday to love our neighbors as ourselves. It could be the holiday for Christians express the love and grace of God throughout our neighborhoods and communities. If you haven’t celebrated Halloween in a while, here are a couple of ideas to make a holiday with strong Christian overtones:
1) On a normal day, no one from your street comes to your house. Halloween is the one day when the entire neighborhood potentially could come to your door. The one day when your neighbors mill around in street is the one day your lights are off and door is locked. That doesn’t seem quite right. So, be home; turn your lights on; answer the door.
2) If everyone is coming to your house, why not be the house that gets the reputation for best house to visit for trick-or-treating? Instead of the house that gives away raisins or toothbrushes—or even tracts—your house can be known as the house that gives away full-sized Snickers. Three decades later, I can still remember the stingy houses and the very generous houses I visited as a child.
3) As a youth worker, this holiday can even be a blessing to your students. Get your kids off the streets and put them to work by helping you make your house amazing. Have a party for them in your home. While they are there, have them decorate, pass out candy, do card tricks, whatever. Simply be being there, your house transitions into a place of life and celebration of life.
Halloween is the one holiday when your neighborhood actually comes to you. Instead of running away from this holiday, maybe we should embrace it, redeem it, make it our own. What story are you telling to your neighbors when they knock on your door? What are the values you are sharing with them? Jesus came to give us life and life abundantly. Halloween is the perfect time to share this abundant life. How great would it be if your house is the house that celebrates life; if your house was the house the neighbors’ kids couldn’t wait to get to for trick-or-treat?
Let us recapture the value of hospitality and show off this abundant life we have in Christ! King-sized Snickers for everyone!