(Note: I am aware that Halloween means different things to different folks, and it isn’t all fun and candy. People use the evening for all kinds of foolishness [and, at times, evil]. So, please recognize that this post focuses on a specific expression.)
I have fond memories tied to Halloween, perhaps as many as I do Christmas. When I was young, I would often go to Evan’s house to trick-or-treat because he had a friendly neighborhood for that (i.e., lots of candy). One of those years we found a lost dog and made $2.00 each for returning it. I can recall watching Disney’s Halloween Treat with my siblings. When I was in fourth grade, my mom made the most amazing amateur haunted house in the world (at least that’s how my fourth grade brain remembers it). The haunted house was made with black plastic, black lights, dark corners, fake walls, spaghetti noodles, and a window where Uncle Jon would scare people as they exited.
In about that same time frame, the church I went to had a haunted house/fall fest type thing. I remember feeling peeled grapes and being told they were eyeballs. (I still often eat grapes by first peeling the skin off—forever being influenced by that church.) As I got older, I used my stage makeup (non-)skills (making bruises, open wounds, and stuff like that) to try and make scary costumes. Even in college, I vividly remember coming back to the dorm where Evan and I lived and seeing him lying on his bed covered in fake blood. (I still bought him bottles of fake blood even on into adulthood.)
Yes, I loved it as a kid, but It wasn’t until seminary that I was given a new perspective on Halloween.
We were in my world missions class, and the professor spoke of culture and the way cultures ascribe meaning. He focused on cultural forms. Every culture has forms that the people of the culture ascribe meaning to. For example, on October 31st, you might see porch lights on and porch lights off. Porch lights on means . . . you guessed it: Satan. Wait, no. Porch lights on means candy. They are open invitations to come up, dressed in a costume, say a phrase, and get candy. Porch lights off means . . . you guessed it: stay away.
And these cultural exchanges will be taking place in neighborhoods nationwide this weekend.
However, at times, we ascribe a different function to the form. We might think of “Halloween” and have visions of darkness, ghouls, goblins, and the like. And, thus, we do not participate in the exchange. I get that. I wouldn’t want my kids worshipping Satan either. Doesn’t mix well with the whole Jesus is Lord and Savior thing we are going for in our home day in and day out. And, yes, that can happen on Halloween, just as it can happen on any other day.
But, please let me remind you. If you celebrate Christmas or Easter then you are participating in what was a pagan event from years past that Christians repurposed (and the world kinda took a hold of). Why aren’t you bothered? Why don’t you boycott? Shoot, even worse, you or someone you love might likely give into the consumeristic tendencies that show up during the Christmas season. I hope, at least for consistency’s sake, we are as bothered by that—or we choose to give out chocolate empty tombs instead of chocolate bunnies. (I’ll refrain here from asking if you enjoy participating in rituals like football games where people get dressed up, eat too much, some get inebriated, and then they watch teenagers run around for three hours.)
The problem is that we are selective in how we apply cultural forms and forget about the theological concepts that can change our view of them—incarnation, redemption, and mission.
- In Christ’s incarnation, we are reminded that the Son of God took on a necessary form (humanity) so that we could rightly understand God (John 1:14). Without Jesus coming right into our world, we would’ve never known God.
- In our redemption, we are reminded that we are bought back from a terrible place—our sin (Eph. 1:7). For all those who have faith in Jesus, you are redeemed.
- In God’s mission, we are reminded that God’s desire to find others who are far from him has not stopped (Luke 19:10).
When I take these ideas and run them through the lens of Halloween (as many of us experience it), here’s what I see: a cultural holiday where (most) people look forward to having people come to their door, giving out candy, and seeing how people dress up. (Yes, some people use this for stupid and ridiculous purposes. But if I were to limit my participation in anything to times when people abstained from stupid and ridiculous things, I would likely never do anything.) Why on earth should Christians refrain from such a time? Christians, who know that Jesus took on the necessary form to seek and save them, can redeem the holiday by using the cultural forms as a way to get to know people whom God loves deeply and sent his son to die for (if you have an awesome haunted house, that’s just icing).
This Halloween I’ll be with my crew. And, weather permitting, we’ll be giving out good candy (bad candy is un-Christian) and getting good candy as well (here’s hoping). As they get older, we’ll have to branch out. Maybe a haunted house is in store. Or fake blood. Or finding lost dogs.
Let’s let the form be just that. And let’s be the best trick-or-treaters around. People are counting on us.