Halloween is the second largest commercial holiday in America. We spend $6.9 Billion. I think that’s roughly what was spent on Hurricane Andrew. What is it about Halloween that draws us in? Is it the candy? Candy comes with every holiday (mental note: don’t snitch the kids’ candy! I gain weight every Oct 31 – Thanksgiving)
No, it’s not just the candy. There’s something else that draws us and I want to spend 2-3 posts leading up to that and how we respond. I want to talk about the way we live on October 31, how we prepare for that, how we respond to our culture’s celebration, whether we boycott it or participate redemptively in it. I want to talk about the secular and sacred, how we often separate the two and how Halloween has become a secular celebration that we either boycott or carefully participate in and how we can more effectively again join our sacred and secular lives in such events as Halloween.
I wrote more briefly about this last year on my blog (and perhaps there’s a bit of annual liturgy of the blog that will arise over the years, things we keep writing about annually for one reason or another).
Our Ugandan friends were frequently curious about our culture, as we were curious and learning their culture. We found it difficult, however, to explain Halloween to our Ugandan friends. In fact, we were awakened to the fact that any holiday that glorifies gore and darkness is suspect at best and can lead to sin at worst.
Yet there we were, ironically, “celebrating” a holiday in Uganda with apple bobbing, dressing up on Oct 31 night . . . in a place where we were trying to move Ugandans out of superstitions and belief that evil controls them, that evil spirits reign above the earth, that God is not in control; we were trying to preach Christ as more powerful than the evil one or evil spirits that most Ugandans very much believe in (Jn 4:4).
We would talk about fetishes and charms they wore on their arms, under their clothes, put in their houses. We’d warn against curses they’d put on others to hex them and win power over them. We’d frown and condemn the spirit mediums who would dress up in cowry shells with a shepherds crook, get drunk, wear a leopard skin, dance around, smoke a pipe, and divine the nature of sickness or death in a village, trying to determine what was the cause, animal sacrifice, even human sacrifice . . .
And we were Americans come to “show them the way” and we were glorifying a holiday where we dress up as spirits and gools . . . or maybe fools. Were we wrong? Did we send a wrong signal. Some of our Ugandan friends knew about our celebrations. One tailor named Charles Oneka even sewed costumes for our children. Our close friends understood . . . but perhaps others didn’t.
But I tell you that story because when we got outside of our culture, we learned something about ourselves that we otherwise might not have learned. And Ugandan Christians, and perhaps even more so non-Christian animists, view all of life as sacred, so Halloween would not simply be viewed as playtime. They seriously wondered what was all this talk of spirits and demons.
Like many other Christians recently, we’ve helped our children avoid dressing up as blantantly evil characters. Events have been changed from Halloween to “Fall Festivals,” and trick or treating has become “trunk or treats” at churches. Ironically, as I will show in another post, the name “Fall Festival” is more like the pagan celebration than Halloween (All Hallows Eve), which is a derivative of a Middle English Hallowsmas, All Saints Day, the day of remembering Saints and Martyrs. Presumably, the Catholic Church brought this holiday in to offset the pagan harvest festival in which it was believed that the line between life and death was blurred and mediums and prophets could more easily discern and prophesy what would happen to crops, families, villages, etc. I’ll write more about this in post 2 on Halloween.
Churches like mine do Fall Festivals, down the street at St. Luke’s they are raising money for missions with a Pumpkin Patch. On 21st street at a church you can attend a drama about the Fires of Hell and you see a coffin as advertisement for that drama.
A few years ago at a Fall Festival I helped plan in Houston, a Baptist came to our Fall Festival because his Baptist church “did not talk about Halloween or Fall Festivals because of pagan origins.” So I welcomed him . . . and asked him for tickets to the Baptist’s annual Christmas Pageant, because at that time, my church “didn’t talk about Christmas as Jesus birth.” His family attended our Fall Festival, ours attended the Baptist’s Christmas Pageant.
What is the biblical principle that guides us here? Should we join culture, celebrate with, revise events with Christian emphasis? Shouldn’t it concern us that we celebrate rightly as Christians? Do we celebrate outside of our Christian faith? Should there be secular and sacred separations in our lives?
Some biblical principles to think about . . .
•Avoid every appearance of evil (1 Thes 5:19-22)
•Meat sacrificed to idols (I Cor 8)
•Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch! (Col 2:21)
•Don’t let anyone judge you because of celebrations (Col 2:16)
•Live in the world but not of the world (Jn 17:15-16)
How do we discern which we choose in dealing with events such as Halloween?
Well, Christians have chosen their texts and reacted certain ways to cultural events such as Halloween. Here are four ways we’ve responded to culture:
1.Overlook evil side of Halloween or benefits and be indifferent . . .
2.Stand against culture and boycott . . . truck or treat or turning off lights
3.Join it uncritically
4.Engage it and others in our culture and see it as part of the Kingdom life where we participate redemptively
My next post will detail origins of Halloween (and I’ll give links to more) and talk about my response and what I plan to do on Halloween.