The signs are all there.
On the outside, with the Autumn winds and the changing colors of the foliage, October is the month where people brace themselves for the Winter cold. On the inside, you can see it at grocery stores all over the city. You can hear it being mentioned on TV commercials. You can also receive it in the flyers on our doorsteps. Even public schools get ready for this annual event: Halloween Fun!
The “Trick-or-Treat” question have commercial companies all heightened up for grand sales on both fronts. On the “trick” side, department stores and thrift shops stock up on frightening costumes, gory limbs, skeletons, witch dressings, complete with broomsticks and pumpkins. Not to be outdone, on the “treat” side, stores offer huge packets and gigantic boxes of candies, chocolates, and dental-unfriendly offerings. They are firmly there to make money out of an annual kids’ fun event. Hopping on the bandwagon are the entertainment players that range from opening up ‘haunted houses’ to some midnight rollercoaster rides at the nearby amusement parks. All for the price of fun.
For Christians, the key question asked is this: “Can Christians Celebrate Halloween?” This age-old question has been asked many times, answered many times, but still comes up every year. It is one of those questions that are actively asked simply because the event has been so widely promoted especially in North America. Let me give some guidance with regard to this. I offer three questions as a guide.
First, what exactly are we ‘celebrating?’ This word comes from the Latin word ‘celeber’ which literally means to honour. In birthdays, we honour the one born on the day and month. On national days, we honour the birth of the nation or the day when the country declared independence. On significant events that brought honour to a country, like winning a major sports event or some wonderful achievement like winning the Nobel prize, we can celebrate. We acknowledge the good that the winners had done. We come together for the joint remembrance of a great accomplishment. In a nutshell, celebration is always about a good thing, a noble person, or a worthy feat. When it comes to Halloween, where is the good? What kind of noble cause are we looking at? What are we truly honouring? Morbid, devilish, eerie, and frightening costumes represent a very weird way of fun. While there are kids that look cute in costumes out of a witch’s wardrobe, such acts are momentarily. At the heart of it all is the toying of a human emotion: Fear. Have we not have enough fear in our culture already? Fear of loss of employment. Fear of not getting our pay on time. Fear of poor relationships. Fear of getting blamed for something we did or did not do. Fear of the police, the government, or some district authority. Fear of getting caught for speeding! As if these fears are not enough, why do we stoke fears all over again under the guise of fun?
Second, is there a better alternative? I know of some people who would accuse me of being a killjoy. Some might even think that I take things too seriously. My reply would be: Just because I do not approve of a spooky Halloween does not mean I do not like fun or I am some kind of a sourpuss. My conviction is: Amusement and entertainment can be good and clean. There is no need to resort to scare or fear-mongering. After all, why would the film classification authorities separate “Family” genre from “Horror?” Philippians 4:8 reminds us of the things Christians ought to do more and more:
“Finally, brothers and sisters, 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.”
If we want to ‘celebrate’ anything, we honour the things that are true, that are noble, that are right, pure, lovely, admirable, and worthy of praise. I can think of three alternatives.
- Reformation Day (Oct 31st): On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther pinned the 95 theses on the doors at Wittenburg, challenging the Roman Catholic Church to a debate about justification by faith and grace. That sparked a new movement of spiritual revival, with many people learning to read the Bible for themselves.
- All Saints Day (Nov 1st): Long a Western Church tradition, the original meaning of “All Hallows Eve” is an evening devoted to remembering the revered saints of old. From Paul the Apostle to St Augustine; Medieval saints to Protestant leaders, the day can be a time in which we learn from the good works and biography of the people who had brought honour and glory to God through their dedicated service.
- Israel’s Revival (445 BC): It was said that on this day, the prophet Ezra read the Book of the Law to the people of Israel, sparking a spiritual awakening and revival (Neh 9:1).
Third, how does it honour God? As Christians, we want to honour God in everything we say or do. It begins first in the mind. This is something that many people miss out. Though it is invisible and not so obvious to the human eye, spiritual warfare is real. It manifests in many different ways. For all we know, Halloween is that moment in which evil becomes disguised in all kinds of ways. While there is nothing wrong in donning costumes or eating candies, the concern is what really are we representing ourselves to the public? Are we saying that wearing a costume that denotes a devilish thing good? Are we supporting in our acts that it is ok to scare people out of their wits? Are we too comfortable in today’s culture that we no longer are sensitive to subtle evil influences that lurk everywhere? Should we not protect young children who are easily impressionable? In a secular society, it is increasingly difficult to counter the cultural emblems and lifestyle. People who support the frightening aspects of Halloween have largely desensitized themselves to the spiritual forces that exist, simply because they don’t believe. On the contrary, by thinking that everything is secular, and that they are in charge of their own destinies, they have already taken on a worldview that it does not matter. For Christians, we cannot do that. We believe that whatever we do, we need to honour God. Fun must never come at the expense of compromising our own Christian beliefs and spiritual values.
In summary, when we celebrate, we do so for something good, not hideous or morbid. When we honour, we remember the good things that have happened in the past. When we live, we remember that we are accountable to God and to one another. One thing we can remember is the goodness that God has given us: The Church; and one another.
Come for our Fall Festival on Oct 31st, 2016 at 6pm. There will be a time of storytelling, food, games, and activities that are good clean fun. We will celebrate God’s goodness of providence and children.
See you there.