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Halloween - Trick or Retreat?

Will you participate in Halloween this year?

Halloween is once again nearly upon us. Articles about the occasion are beginning to make their way into my RSS reader and I thought I’d keep up with one of this site’s few traditions and write an article on the subject. My thoughts on the subject continue to develop as perhaps long-time readers will notice.

Just this morning Pulpit Magazine linked to a great article courtesy of Grace to You. The article deals well with the subject, seeking to answer these questions: “How should Christians respond to Halloween? Is it irresponsible for parents to let their children trick-or-treat? What about Christians who refuse any kind of celebration during the season—are they overreacting?”

The article spells out several legitimate ways Christians will react to Halloween this year:

  • Some will adopt a “No Participation” policy. As Christian parents, they don’t want their kids participating in spiritually compromising activities—listening to ghost stories and coloring pictures of witches. They don’t want their kids to dress up in costumes for trick-or-treating or even attending Halloween alternatives.
  • Other Christians will opt for Halloween alternatives called “Harvest Festivals” or “Reformation Festivals”—the kids dress up as farmers, Bible characters, or Reformation heroes. It’s ironic when you consider Halloween’s beginning as an alternative, but it can be an effective means of reaching out to neighborhood families with the gospel. Some churches leave the church building behind and take acts of mercy into their community, “treating” needy families with food baskets, gift cards, and the gospel message.
  • There’s another option open to Christians: limited, non-compromising participation in Halloween. There’s nothing inherently evil about candy, costumes, or trick-or-treating in the neighborhood. In fact, all of that can provide a unique gospel opportunity with neighbors. Even handing out candy to neighborhood children—provided you’re not stingy—can improve your reputation among the kids. As long as the costumes are innocent and the behavior does not dishonor Christ, trick-or-treating can be used to further gospel interests.

I appreciate the sensitivity the authors display in dealing with what is a difficult topic. It is my conviction that this is, in many ways, an issue of conscience. I do not believe there is absolute right and wrong here—we can’t be too dogmatic about it. Each person (and, in particular, I believe, each father) must examine the Bible and his conscience to see where that leads him. It may lead him to any of these options, each of which can be legitimate. The Bible says nothing about Halloween, though certainly there are principles we can find that will help guide us. But ultimately I believe we have to trust our biblically-informed consciences and our sanctified reasoning to guide us. Let me share where this has led me.

My conviction has long been that it would be a poor witness to the neighbors if my family were to refuse to participate in Halloween; it would be inconsistent with the way Aileen and I feel we are to live within this neighborhood. This day provides a unique opportunity to interact with neighbors, to enjoy their children and to prove that Christians are part of the community and not merely people who want only to interact with Christian friends or to only interact in our own way and on our own terms. Aileen and I are fully part of the community around us and look forward to being part of the community events that happen here. And so we allow our children to go out trick-or-treating, provided they do not wear evil or occult costumes. It still feels like a bit of a compromise, and admittedly one with which I am not entirely comfortable. Yet I would struggle far more with turning out the lights or finding something else to do that evening.

The truth is that I have several convictions regarding Halloween. I despise the pagan aspects of it. I am convicted that my children should not dress as little devils or ghosts or monsters or otherwise glory in evil. But I am also convicted that it is a poor witness to have a darkened house, especially in a neighborhood like ours which is small and where every person and every home is highly-visible. We know that, if we choose not to participate, the neighbors will notice and assume that we feel somehow above them for not participating (and that we are judging them for their participation). We have nothing to fear from our neighbors or from their children, no matter how they choose to dress for an evening. So my children will dress up (my son as a soldier and my daughters as a ballerina and a princess) and we will visit each of our neighbors, knocking on their doors and accepting their fistfuls of candy. Either my wife or I (I think it’s my turn this year) will remain at home, greeting people at our door with a smile and a handful of something tasty. If the kids are deemed too old to trick-or-treat, they’ll be forced to sing a song to merit any handouts. Our door will be open and the light will be on. A contributor to an email list I participate in once concluded his defense of participating in Halloween with these words: “One night does not a neighbor make (and one night does not a pagan make), but Halloween is the one night of the year where the good neighborliness that flows from being in Christ is communicated and reinforced. We are citizens of another Kingdom where The Light is always on.” That analogy seems particularly appropriate.

This year we’re doing something else. We’ve invited all of the neighbors over for dinner before the festivities begin. We’ve got at least 40 or 50 people who are planning on coming by for a barbeque. We’re doing this simply because we enjoy our neighbors and love to spend time with them. Halloween evening can be hectic, with parents getting home from work and then rushing to prepare their children, so we thought we’d attempt to relieve one burden by taking care of dinner for everyone. It should be fun and we’re looking forward to it.

My encouragement to you today is to think and pray about this issue so that you can do what your conscience dictates for that day. I do not see Halloween as a great evangelistic occasion and this is where some of my thought on the issue has probably developed most. In the past I may have tried to convince myself that Halloween would offer occasions to share the gospel, but I don’t think this is usually the case. Nor does it have to be. I think Halloween is a time that you can prove to your neighbors that you care about them, that you care about their children, and that you are glad to be in this world and this culture, even if you are not of this world or this culture. Aileen and I feel that God has deliberately placed us here and among these people. We want to celebrate with them, even on an occasion of such dubious importance as Halloween.


Addendum - Let me add just one thing here. This year Halloween is on a Wednesday which means it will conflict with many mid-week church services. We did not realize that the two conflicted until after we had already made and spread our plans for the evening. I am generally convicted that we need to be at church when the doors are open. If you are of the same mind, this article may be more theory than practice, at least for this year. We unwittingly made an exception this year, but probably would not have if we had not already invited the neighborhood to our home that night. And yes, we feel a bit guilty about it. My pastor offered this advice for next time: “Get a calendar!” That’s not a bad plan…