Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Why We (don't) Celebrate Halloween: Four Reasons We Hold the Day in Tension

I grew up a fanatic of Halloween. There was the scarecrow year, when my family learned I was allergic to hay. [1] There was the Ninja Turtle year, when we realized green paint takes a long time to wash away. There was the elderly man year, when I lost a portion of my eyebrow due to the adhesive used to glue on the gray. I have been a Care-bear, a baseball player, a Ghostbuster, and a teenager (that was the year I wanted the treats without the effort). Along the way, I have consumed a ridiculous amount of candy.

My wife grew up in a family where they were excused from school on Halloween. Instead of parading around as ghouls and goblins, they spent the day on family field trips. They went to fun places and celebrated life together, free from symbols of fear and death. These were sacred adventures, which Amber continues to hold dear to her heart. While they may not have participated in parades or trick-or-treating, they were not without experiences laughter and fun. They also ate a lot of candy.

So, who was right? Which one was more or less "Christian?"

What would we do as a family, play dress up and trick-or-treat or provide alternatives to celebrations of horror and mischief?

When we were married, without kids, and lived in road-side apartments sans trick-or-treaters, the question was easy. Now that we live in a vibrant community with not only a ton of kids, but also having two of our own, we decided to hold October 31st in tension.

Four Reasons We Hold the Day in Tension

Love Your Neighbor: There is no other day when you will see as many of your neighbors and their families walking around your community. Grant it, you may have to double-take to figure out who is who, but they are out and about nonetheless. Last year, I was blown away by the opportunity we had to sit outside, with our kids dressed as cows, and talk with people we knew and those we were meeting for the first time. As we handed out the goods, we were able to sit and share life together. My wife an I decided that it was far more hospitable to hand out deliciousness and greet passerbys than to turn off our porch light and remain hermits to our basement ignorant to occasional knocks at the door. Also, that would leave us vulnerable to the occasional egg...

Remember Your Witness and Your Story: It is in deed possible, as Jesus prayed, to be in the world and not of it (John 17). That said, Halloween is an opportunity to remember who we are as the people of God. While we may dress up and peruse the streets with pillow cases in hand (way better than a trash bag or crappy pumpkin bucket), we also must remember who we are as image bearers and disciples of Jesus. We are a people covenanted to a kingdom of justice and peace. We follow a crucified Messiah, whose resurrection was the perfect love that drove away all fear (1 John 4:18). We have hope that death has lost its sting and hope can carry us forward until the day comes when all will be made new and right (1 Cor. 15:54-56; Rev. 21). So while we may participate in trick or treat and attend local parades, our story and our witness ought determine both our costume and our behaviors at these gatherings. We should refuse to masquerade our identity as followers of the Way.

Parades Are Fun Ways to Support Your Community: Each year I am drawn to the Halloween Parade in West Chester. There are few other opportunities to support local schools, encourage large numbers of youth who participate in marching bands and dance teams, learn about local businesses, and hang out with not only those neighbors who live next door, but also those who live all over town. It is a way to be present and reminded that the church and her members are called to a particular community and people. Sometimes this means showing up on a day that may cause us to be a bit anxious. Maybe next year I will go and dress up...

Resurrection > Death: October 31st is also a day marked on the liturgical calendar where we remember those who have passed from death to life. October 31st was originally marked as All Hallows' Eve. November 1st and the Sunday that directly follows are typically referred to as All Saints Day. [2] On these days, we remember that we are a part of a larger history and greater cloud of witnesses than those who live in the hear and now. While Halloween borders on mimicry of the dead, the church is called to enter into remembrance of those who have gone before us and ahead of us. We remember and honor those who have modeled what it means to love God and love neighbor.

So, which is more Christian on Halloween, to participate or vacate?

Is there a single answer?

Maybe, like everything else, we are to hold the day in tension. Maybe, like everything else, we should find fresh opportunities to love God and love neighbor.

For now, I need to get ready to dress my kids as a duck and a monkey. It's gonna be awesome!


[1] Yes, these photos are from my childhood!

[2] For an interesting read, see an older article in Relevant Magazine on the contrast between Halloween and All Hallows' Eve: Is Halloween Good or Evil?