What to do with Halloween
Eating supper together is one of the things that is not optional in our family. We all eat together around the supper table; Phones put away & the TV turned off. We take turns praying and thanking God for the many blessings we have in our life - especially the food we get to eat.
Yesterday, my middle daughter, 6 yrs old, included "Dear Jesus, thank you it's almost Halloween," in her supper-time prayer.
What's a Christian parent, let alone one who is a pastor, supposed to do?
Each year, the battle wages over a few select holidays and what it means for Christians to participate in them. As Christians (and even more so for Christian Leaders), we walk a fine line of: "Oh, you're one of THOSE pagans who celebrate Halloween" or "Oh, you're one of THOSE Christians who doesn't know how to have fun." Seriously. These are conversations that happen.
If you've grown up in Christian homes, you may have memories of turning off your lights, hiding in the basement and pretending that no one was home when Oct.31 came around - for fear of 'participating' in this 'evil' day by handing out candy. Or perhaps, you're new to this church thing and you remained baffled why a day where kids dress up and loads of free candy can cause such a stir in Christian circles.
The question remains: is it OK for Christians to participate in Halloween? Should I reprimand my daughter for thanking Jesus that Halloween is almost here?
It's not a secret that many of the "Christian" holidays that we celebrate are actually based on pagan celebrations and rituals. Christmas and Easter are loaded with pagan imagery in our traditions. I mean, what do bunnies, eggs, yule logs, candy canes and Christmas trees have to do with Christ (on which Christians like to believe the holiday is based on)?
Short answer: they have nothing to do with Christ.
Short answer that requires an explanation: syncretism
Syncretism is a combining of beliefs to 'synchronize' them into one. This happens over time as different traditions, beliefs, and theologies run into opposing traditions, beliefs and theologies. Often, instead of battling it out, small concessions and modifications happen and over time, the two things that used to oppose each other are combined. We've seen this over time in the church a LOT.
Christmas is full pagan traditions that Christianity has claimed for their own: taking the good and fun practices and redeeming the bad parts. One example is the Christmas tree: a tradition of pagan origins during the winter solstice, fir boughs were brought inside the house and decorated to remind them of spring to come and to honour fertility gods. Christians simply overtook this tradition and it is no longer a second thought for most Christians to have a Christmas tree in their house.
So... what to do with Halloween? On one hand, Christians have been able to take over holidays and claim them as their own, but Halloween seems to have other, occultic or sinister undertones... can we do that in this case?
Well, let's look at the origins of this day:
It is a Pagan Celtic tradition that dates back over 2000 years ago where the souls of the dead were said to revisit their homes and the festival began to take on sinister tones with witches, goblins and ghosts said to roaming around on this night and a time to appease the supernatural powers that governed nature.
About 800 years ago, the church reclaimed this day to have it celebrate and honour the memory of saints and martyrs of the faith - hence all saints day on November 1.
While the past of this day may be scary to participate in, avoiding it out of fear is not the best response! Christmas and Easter have been redeemed from their pagan roots to now celebrate our Risen Lord and I believe the same can happen with Halloween.
SO... what to do with my daughter?
Well, in our house we take the approach that no matter what, we serve a God who is able to redeem the fallen, broken and misguided of the world. Things that were meant for evil are turned into things that glorify God. Death isn't something to fear because our saviour conquered death by rising again three-days after his crucifixion.
We don't celebrate, practice or honour traditions that undermine the basis of our faith or that give death credit where credit and power aren't due.
Come October 31, our children dawn the costumes of fun characters and princesses (of which they do many times while playing together throughout the year) and go out and get too much candy. We dress up (but not in gory, or occultic themes), we decorate in fall colours (but not with fear, death and gore), and we carve pumpkins into funny faces.
It isn't about can we celebrate this day, and even thank God for it, but can we do it thoughtfully and with care.
I will use every opportunity to show my children how even when a fallen world creates a 2000 year old occultic ritual of celebrate the day of the dead, there is an ability to redeem it by pointing to the faults and showing how Jesus is the missing player. We don't celebrate spirits coming back to revisit our house - we point to a God who is preparing a place for us in heaven. We show that death isn't anything to fear or appease, because our God tells us that we will resurrect - just like he did! - and even death can't hold us down.
Thank you Jesus for Halloween? Absolutely! It means I can talk to my children about their saviour!
OR... If you're from a reformed background, you can always just dress up at your favourite reformer and celebrate October 31 as reformation day (the day Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the door of the church :P
I am a pastor in rural Manitoba that is passionate about the church, leadership, coffee and bicycles.