What is the big deal with Halloween? Why is it that some people – most of them Christian – get so upset by it?
I’ve been thinking about it a bit over the past few days. At church last week, someone made a comment about it from the front, and that generated a certain amount of discussion on Facebook. Halloween is one of those things which different people have very different opinions about, and I wouldn’t like to prescribe any particular opinion as “the” Christian opinion.
However, I will admit to being quite uncomfortable with Halloween, and – given that it’s a subject I’ve never blogged on before – I’d like to take a moment to share my thoughts on it. So, what’s the big deal with Halloween? Why does it make me uncomfortable?
Firstly, a personal anecdote. A couple of weeks ago, we went into a store in Clacton to buy a two-year-old a birthday present. It was a general, family-friendly store, and I was carrying Lydia (my two-year-old daughter). As we walked in, the very first thing we passed as we entered the shop was a display with some gruesome Halloween costumes. I’m sure you’ve all seen the kind of thing – masks and costumes made up to look as horrible as possible – Zombies, the undead, creepy things – all that kind of stuff. And as I was carrying Lydia past it, I did wonder whether it was really an appropriate display for a two-year-old to be looking at (fortunately she didn’t notice). I don’t think I’m a prude by any manner of means, but I do think some things are not appropriate for children and many Halloween costumes really push the limits of what is acceptable. Even if those costumes were designed for older children, you can’t prevent younger children from seeing them (e.g. older siblings, at school etc.) For the last few weeks we’ve been taking Lydia along to a toddler group at a nursery, and over half-term at that nursery they’ve been running a Halloween-themed club. Apparently every activity is Halloween themed. This is far from uncommon – in fact it seems to be the new norm. Even the youngest children are exposed to it.
Secondly, I have a problem with what Halloween actually is. Most people defend Halloween as being “just a bit of fun” – I hear this time and again when talking about Halloween. But the thing is, “just a bit of fun” is not a reason to do something. There are a lot of things which are “just a bit of fun” which might actually be harmful – such as ‘banter‘. The point is, to my mind a festival like Halloween needs to say something positive to justify its existence rather than simply carrying on because it’s not bad enough to stop doing. With a festival such as Christmas or Easter, it’s obvious what those times are supposed to be celebrating: there is, if you like, a positive message. But with Halloween – what? Scary stuff is good? Let’s all have a big laugh at witches, ogres, monsters, etc? However you want to cut it, I think Halloween simply does not say anything positive, which causes me to question its existence.
Thirdly, following on from that – doesn’t Halloween actually work against pretty much everything that we teach kids for the rest of the year? We want to teach children good values, we want to teach them about goodness and love, that good overcomes evil, to be polite to others, not to participate in things which are wrong, etc. It seems to me that Halloween, as it is today, turns all that on its head. Trick or treat, for example: when else would we tell kids it’s OK to knock on a complete stranger’s door and ask them for a treat… or else? (And yes, I know that’s not how most parents do trick or treat, but still.) Some kids go to Halloween parties made up with big scars etc – isn’t that simply disrespectful to those who bear wounds and injuries, or with physical deformities? Is it right to be teaching kids that physical deformity and scars are “scary” and should be mocked and ridiculed? Those are just a couple of examples, there are more.
Fourthly, and as a Christian I think this is the most important thing for me, I believe that evil does actually exist. And actually, I wonder whether this may be the heart of the matter. 1 Peter 5:8-9 says, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” The Bible is clear that the Devil and evil do actually exist, not just in a philosophical sense. There are many testimonies of those who have experienced evil in a fairly personal way – Nicky Cruz’s books spring to mind (especially ‘Devil on the Run’, where he talks about his parents who were occult healers). Someone at my old church grew up in a missionary family in Africa, and had more than a few stories to tell. Christians are warned explicitly against consulting with mediums and the like (e.g. Lev. 19:31; Deut. 18:9-13). Paul says in Ephesians 6:12, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Given all of this – why would we even want to have anything to do with evil, regardless of how light-hearted it supposedly is?
Christians, by contrast, are exhorted: “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Phil. 4:8). We are to set our minds on the things of God, good things, things which are pure and help us to grow in holiness. I can’t see that Halloween helps us in that goal.
A few years ago people used to wear “WWJD” bracelets – What Would Jesus Do? Although I think it’s not always helpful to think of things in those terms (Jesus was the Son of God, after all, he could do things we couldn’t or shouldn’t do) – but I do think it might be a helpful question to ask in this situation. Would Jesus dress up as a burn victim for Halloween? Can you imagine him laughing as he painted on fake scars? You know, I just don’t think I can. That’s not to say I think Jesus would have avoided going to Halloween parties – he hung around with sinners all the time – but I don’t think he would have “celebrated” Halloween.
Finally – I appreciate that this is not an issue which Christians completely agree on (if you want a different perspective, have a read of this from the Good Book Company). And, as I hinted at in that last paragraph, I wouldn’t advise Christians to avoid Halloween parties. That’s not to say I would advise going to Halloween parties – I’d just say, use your own godly common sense and wisdom. But I just wanted to share why Halloween, as a festival, makes me uncomfortable, and why I think it’s worth at least pausing for thought before diving in.