When Doug McHone and I were chatting (something we did an awful lot of) at the Desiring God Conference, he swore that he would not discuss Halloween this year. I made no such promise to him, and today would like to discuss it, even if only briefly. In my further defense, I believe this is the first time I will have written about this subject. I discuss this topic primarily because my wife and I struggle with it, to some extent, every year. Our children are understandly eager to trick-or-treat and, like many Christians, we are both attracted to and repulsed by the idea.
This topic has been discussed over the past couple of days on the Reformed Baptist Discussion List. One member of the list posted a couple of responses to Halloween provided by John MacArthur in an informal question and answer setting. MacArthur was asked, “Is there anything wrong with children going out ‘Trick or Treating’, like Halloween, and if so, what specifically is bad in it, and what do the MacArthur kids do? And, should Grace get involved in any alternatives?” His response was as follows:
“I think, it’s not a wise thing to have children go out trick or treating. I mean, I think it’s kind of dumb for Christian kids to dress up like ghosts and witches and weird things, and devil suits, and trouble-makers, and all that. I think, for example, you know, the whole thing of All Saints Day or All Hallows Eve has connotations, first of all of Roman Catholic tradition. It has connotations of demons and spirits. Plus the fact that little kids are exposed to screwballs as well as to cars, and all kinds of other things…What we do in our family is we have an alternative. Like you said, we do an alternative thing. We do something fun for the whole family. It varies from year to year, and our church has always done that, too, for the kids. Have parties and socials and things.”
Of course I’m sure it has been a few years since the MacArthur children asked to dress up for Halloween. I post MacArthur’s response because I feel it is quite typical of the Christian attitude towards Halloween. He feels the day holds too many negative connotations and that Christians should find a more sacred alternative.
I acknowledge this as a difficult issue. My conviction is that it is a very poor witness to have the house of believers blacked out on Halloween. Halloween presents a great opportunity to interact with neighbors, to meet their children and to prove that we are part of the community – not merely people who want only to interact with Christian friends. At the same time I despise how evil Halloween is. Already our neighborhood has ghosts hanging from trees and evil plastic figurines stuck into lawns. One section of houses nearby always feels the need to go the extra step, putting on scary music, dressing in occult costumes and generally glorying in evil. To this time we have allowed our children to go out trick-or-treating, provided they do not wear evil or occult costumes. It is a compromise, and admittedly not one I am entirely comfortable with. Over the past several years our church has offered an alternative to Halloween with a “harvest party.” This is a party in a nearby community center that allows children to dress up and get their fill of candy in a less-pagan environment. This year the church has decided not to hold a harvest party but to encourage families to be present in their homes, to greet their neighbours and to look for opportunities to interact with them. A couple of the pastors are going so far as to hold neighbourhood barbeques before dark and inviting people to come and share a meal with them. I fully support this decision.
Perhaps the greatest fallacy Christians believe about Halloween is that by refusing to participate in the day we are somehow taking a stand against Satan. And second to that, is that participation in the day is an endorsement of Satan and his evil holidays. The truth is that Halloween is not much different from any other day in this world where, at least for the time being, every day is Satan’s day and a celebration of him and his power. Another member of the Discussion List wrote the following. “Yeah… I’ve heard all of the ‘pagan’ reasons Christians should avoid Halloween. The question is whether we are actually particpating in Samhain when we participate in Halloween? Who or what makes the ‘Witch’s League of Public Awareness’ the definers of what Halloween is, either now or historically? Such a connection between Samhain and my daughter as a ladybug or my son as a Bengals Boy is highly dubious.”
I am guessing my neighbourhood is all-too-typical in that most people arrive home from work and immediately drive their cars into the garage. More often than not they do not emerge again until the next morning when they leave for work once more. It would be a terrible breach of Canadian social etiquette for me to knock on a person’s door and ask them for a small gift or even just to say “hello” to them. Yet on Halloween this barriers all come down. I have the opportunity to greet every person in the neighbourhood. I have the opportunity to introduce myself to the family who moved in just down the street a few weeks ago and to greet some other people I have not seen for weeks or months. At the same time, those people’s children will come knocking on my door. We have two possible responses. We can turn the lights out and sit inside, seeking to shelter ourselves from the pagan influence of the little Harry Potters, Batmans and ballerinas, or we can greet them, gush over them, and make them feel welcome. We can prove ourselves to be the family who genuinelly cares about our neighbours, or we can be the family who shows that we want to interact with them only on our terms.
The same contributor to the Reformed Baptist Discussion List 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.”
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. But I am also convicted that there could be no worse witness to the neighbours than having a dark house, especially in a neighbourhood like ours which is small and where every person and every home is highly-visible. We have nothing to fear from our neighbours or from their children. So my children will dress up (my son as a knight and my daughter as a princess) and we will visit each of our neighbours. Either my wife or I 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. And we hope that the Light will shine brightly.