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Trick or Treat? That is the Question
Evangelicals have various opinions about Halloween. Should we avoid this occult-tinged holiday or seize it as an opportunity to reach out?

Ever since I was laughed at mercilessly in Grade 3 for my Wonder Woman costume, I have never enjoyed Halloween. I didn’t like the monumental decision of choosing a costume.

I didn’t like walking around in the cold and rain. And I didn’t like being scared. Many Christian families approach Halloween with a certain degree of trepidation. We know the evil roots of the celebration but all around us family and friends lure us to participate.

My children have participated in the past simply to appease extended family. The year our youngest daughter turned three, we plopped her in a princess costume and then rapidly hit a snag. Though we forbade anything scary, our neighbours had no such compunction. Down the road, creepy music was blasting while eerie lights lit up fake coffins. Katie wouldn’t budge. Sometimes, even when we choose to be positive, we can’t escape the negative influences around us.

And it’s those negative influences that make Halloween so controversial. Our cultural traditions apparently were founded by Druid priests in ancient Britain who believed that evil spirits roamed every October 31. To “trick” them into not entering their homes, people laid out “treats” on their doorsteps. Hundreds of years later, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as All Saints’ Day, reciting a mass the evening before “hallowing” in the celebration. He wanted to redeem a pagan custom that was still largely practised by the Celtic converts.

Since then Halloween has been the busiest day of the year for occultists. What, then, should a Christian family do? We don’t want to alienate neighbours and friends, but we also don’t want to participate in something that celebrates the demonic.

1. Ignore It

Build Family Memories

Many families decide Halloween’s evil roots are too great to participate. Jan Rowe, a home-schooling mom, organizes a potluck dinner at Melvern Fellowship Baptist Church near Kingston, Nova Scotia, for any families who want to avoid Halloween festivities. Instead of inviting kids to dress up, she invites families to join together to watch movies, play games and enjoy being together – away from trick or treaters.

“We say no to costumes and too much candy,” Rowe explains, “because we think emulating a satanic holiday in any shape or form is hypocritical.”

Deb Elkink likes to retreat with her husband, Gerrit, and some friends to a cottage in the Alberta Rockies on October 31 to celebrate Reformation Day.

It just so happens that, on October 31 back in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenburg door. The Elkinks think this is cause for a party! They gather around the fire debating Lutheran doctrine and sharing quotations from Luther, though none of the Elkinks is actually Lutheran. But it seems like a much more intellectually stimulating – and safer – way to commemorate the date.

Wander the hallways of any of the eight Koinonia Christian schools in Alberta on October 31 and you will see nary a costume in sight. Christian schools are often in a difficult position around October 31 because parents have such differing viewpoints. So many schools have decided it’s best to ignore it.

This perspective is one that Vern Rand, Koinonia’s superintendent and principal of the Red Deer campus, is personally comfortable with.

“We do not endorse it, we don’t support it and we tell our parents why through a letter we send home every year,” Rand says. The letter explains the school’s perspective: the Evil One has “costumed” the real nature of the demonic holiday so people think evil is attractive. “Ah, look at the cute goblin! Here are some Hershey’s Kisses!” Rand notes that when they get complaints about Halloween it’s more likely to be about the quantity of candy consumed on November 1 than about the fact they ignore the celebration.

2. Transform It

Invite Neighbours for an Alternative

At Delta Pentecostal Tabernacle in Delta, British Columbia, you’ll find a big party on October 31 though you won’t find any witches or goblins. In fact, you won’t find many costumes at all. What you will find are dozens of neighbourhood and church children hopping from room to room playing games and winning prizes!

After an hour of festivities, every one heads up to the sanctuary for some family friendly  entertainment themed with the seasonal message “Don’t be scared because God is with you.” Debbie Newton, the office administrator, believes their Halloween alternative is a chance to “celebrate good and not evil.

We celebrate God, not Satan. To us it’s a moral issue.” And it also became a great opportunity for outreach. Many community parents also hated the hassle and potential danger of trick or treating. Inviting these families seemed to be a positive alternative that could also raise the church’s profile.

Fourteen-year-old Joey Newton remembers these Halloween fests as the highlight of the fall. “We got to play fun games and we got candy and prizes we knew were safe to have.” But the highlight was the fireworks display at the end of the evening!

For organizations and individuals who want to reach out to their neighbours, Halloween does present a marvelous opportunity because children are already in the mood for a party. It takes some effort but it’s something that Jeff and Donna Dawson felt was worth it. When their daughters were younger, they invited the girls’ friends for a harvest celebration at their rural Ontario home, complete with a scavenger hunt in the woods and a hayride. They declared it a non-costumed event that happened to coincide with Halloween. Their kids had safe fun and they had the opportunity to reach out to their community.

3. Engage It

Build Bridges with Neighbours

Many parents, however, find it difficult to ignore or repurpose Halloween because most public schools invite children to arrive at school donning a costume. Totally withdrawing from the celebration, then, is complicated.

Instead, princesses and cowboys and ballerinas and puppy dogs abound. Focus on the Family Canada representative Pat Foster thinks that’s OK. As long as parents keep adequate supervision and as long as the costumes aren’t occultist, “we see no reason to forbid the trick or treating tradition.” Besides, children like dressing up, and Focus on the Family thinks “some aspects of our modern observance of Halloween can be harmless and fun.”

Peter Kenniphaas, who pastors Ferndale Bible Church in Peterborough, Ontario, and his wife, Barb, agree. “It’s all about having fun and connecting with people,” Peter explains. When he pastored in Duncan, British Columbia, one particular neighbour was surprised to see their four children trick or treating. She believed Christians shied away from anything that resembled fun.

Instead, Peter and Barb have tried to show what they are for rather than what they are against. Besides, Halloween is a natural time to build bridges with neighbours. “Everybody’s outside and happy and chatting,” Peter says.

“It’s a chance to have some lighthearted fun with the kids, just like I remember growing up,” Barb adds.

They certainly talk to their children about the dark side of Halloween but they say “We’ve chosen to use Halloween as an opportunity to love and serve our neighbours and to build relationships with them.” You can build those relationships from your own doorstep too. We can get to know our neighbours’ names simply by passing out candy at the door, say Peter and Barb.

Laura Davis, who lives in London, Ontario, makes it a point to hand hot chocolate to shivering parents walking door to door. It’s not often we get an easy opening to talk to those who live near us, and she chooses to take it.

Focus on the Family also offers Adventures in Odyssey CDs on special for their Trick or Treasure program. People can give these out as a way to “redeem the day,” says Pat Foster.

Whatever position Christian families take on Halloween, they will have to balance the demonic roots of the celebration with the opportunity for outreach and the desire of their kids to have fun. And in that process, there’s only one easy decision: whatever you do, include some chocolate. Surely no one can argue with that!

Sheila Wray Gregoire is the author of How Big is Your Umbrella: Weathering the Storms of Life. You can sign up for her free e-zine at www.SheilaWrayGregoire.com.

To Love, Honor, and Vacuum : When You Feel More Like a Maid Than a Wife and Mother 
A must read for any woman who finds herself too busy, too tired and too frustrated to enjoy and cherish the most important blessings in her life mainly her husband, her children and her Lord.

How Big Is Your Umbrella? 
In this down-to-earth, practical book, author Sheila Wray Gregoire takes readers on a journey through many of her own hurts. From a broken engagement to the loss of a child, Sheila is well equipped to teach others about God's faithfulness in tough times.

Originally published in Faith Today, September/October 2009.

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