Halloween! Growing up Halloween was a ‘no-go-area’ in our house. We were the house at the end of the cul-de-sac where the curtains were drawn, the lights were dimmed and there was absolutely no confectionary by the back door even if someone had chanced-their-arm by ringing the doorbell. Not that our street was full of children, nor thirty years ago was Halloween the mass commercial event that it has since become. With the cultural-wind blowing across the Atlantic, Halloween is now the second biggest grossing holiday in the UK, while in the USA Halloween accounts for a quarter of all ‘candy’ sales per annum.
We cannot escape the truth that Halloween grows out of an unsavoury confluence of pagan and spiritualist religion that was absorbed and ‘reimagined’ by the church 1,200 years ago. As Ralph Linton writes, ‘Among all the festivals which we celebrate today, few have histories stranger than that of Halloween. It is the eve of All Hallows—or Hallowmas or All Saints’ Day—and as such it is one of the most solemn festivals of the church. At the same time, it commemorates beings and rites with which the church has always been at war. It is the night when ghosts walk and fairies and goblins are abroad.’ (Ralph Linton – Halloween through Twenty Centuries) Or, Nicholas Rogers cautions in his book, The Pagan Origins of Halloween, ‘Halloween has been rejected as demonic and pagan, subsumed into (medieval) Christian ritual, and accepted unthinkingly as harmless fun.’
So, perhaps my parent’s approach was sensible? Or, can we utilise Halloween without engaging in its unsavouriness? Can we leave the lights on and offer a warm welcome or should we retreat behind the sofa?
Let us be honest, this is a matter of individual conscience and there is great liberty to engage or not engage as each person feels led. However, please read the following suggestions to help guide you in how you might spend the evening of Tuesday 31st October.
Pray – Even if not opening the door and dimming the lights is your preferred option, then why not carve out some time in the evening to pray for your neighbourhood, and your neighbours. The ones you know and the ones you don’t know. Why not draw a map of your block of flats or street, fill in information that you know about each household and spend some time praying for them? As S.D. Gordon famously said, “You can do more than pray after you have prayed but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.”
Rejoice – John 1:5 – ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ The great news for Christians is that Christians are eternally immune from the influence of demons and death. The great dragon is crushed even though his great tale whips around in the present. Martin Luther, who let’s face it, wrote more about the devil than is maybe healthy, said, “The best way to drive out the Devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.” Perhaps, Tuesday evening might be a reason to laugh and to celebrate. The Lord Jesus has triumphed over all spiritual powers and authorities and put them to open shame (Col. 2:15). Perhaps we could celebrate that truth especially on an evening devoted to darkness.
Give – Maybe Halloween is a chance to be neighbourly, make some connections with neighbours and learn things about them. Perhaps your household could be renowned in the street as full of generous, warm-hearted people who took an interest in their children. Perhaps there is the chance to go all out and buy great sweets, package them nicely in a bag and even include a non-cheesy leaflet about the gospel. Tracts have an amazing ability to stick, you just never know who might give it a read while they eat their cereal.
Say – Halloween is also a springboard for gospel conversations. As people ascent to the idea of ‘the spiritual’, ‘life after death’ and ‘evil’, perhaps there is the opportunity to cross ‘the pain line’ and say something to your friends, family, neighbours or colleagues? Perhaps start with a question, What do you think about the spirit realm? Do you think ghosts, goblins and ghouls are just a bit fun? Do you think it is strange that we spend an evening celebrating things that are really scary? The sure and certain way to never have a conversation with anyone is to keep your mouth closed.
Friends, Halloween is complicated and please know that I dread it more than I relish it, however, even if it just spurs me to pray for my neighbours then that is a positive. Go well, stay safe and shine bright.
By Jon Gemmell