Sunday, November 1, 2009
Haunted by Halloween
My family didn’t celebrate Halloween when I was a kid, a decision I understood and supported as a child, seeing how it was the Devil’s holiday and all.
We didn’t trick or treat. We didn’t carve pumpkins. We didn’t dress up as scary, ghoulish things. And we didn’t drape our home in orange and black, spiders and skulls, witches and death.
I heard all the stories of how Halloween originated with Druids collecting blood from door to door, medieval Christians scaring away evil spirits in preparation for All Saints Day, people praying to dead ancestors, and more recently, Satanists sacrificing babies on Halloween.
It all seemed like good reasons to abstain. And I hated the whole Halloween season.
I hated when strangers in the grocery store asked me what I was going to dress up as. I hated feeling left out in public school when teachers assumed that Halloween was a safe, nonreligious holiday that everyone could celebrate. I hated candy corn because it had that guilty orange and yellow coloring.
The whole month of October made me uncomfortable.
But ironically, I actually looked forward to Halloween night, second only to Christmas, birthdays, Easter and maybe the 4th of July.
On Halloween, in the buckle of the Bible belt, Evangelical churches out did each other every year with their “Harvest” parties. There were carnival games, costume contests, mazes, prizes and candy galore. And it seemed that every sizeable congregation from the tongue-talking Pentecostals to the Bible-quoting Baptists had something going on that night.
And I loved it.
But when I became a parent, far from the Bible belt, I hated Halloween season even more. I hated the costumes coming out in stores. I hated how every ugly display frightened my pre-school age daughter. I hated how strangers in the grocery store always asked us what we were going to dress up as. I hated that friends made me feel like I was depriving my children of an American rite of passage.
So I avoided Halloween altogether.
But the problem I had was that the church culture around me was changing its opinion of Halloween and I had to deal with it. By this time I was involved in Evangelical church communities who were questioning a lot of what we had previously accepted about the intersection of faith and culture.
Very subtly I had grown from being a child basking in the warmth of an isolationist family to a parent discovering daily what it means to follow Christ in all things and to live faithfully in this culture that God has placed our family in.
I’m currently learning how to not separate and live a monastic, culture-free life, but to become a culturally-engaged part of the greater community while being faithful to God and His redemptive purposes.
Yeah, headful isn’t it. I’m not sure what it means yet either.
Part of that means I question the value of restricting myself to the boundaries of Christian art and culture – Christian music, Christian books, Christian T-shirts, Christian lingo. I think some of that is nice for the Christian community, but it seems to alienate everyone else and that seems counter productive for a community called to emulate the man who was “a friend of sinners.”
So six years ago, when a friend invited me to a kids’ Halloween party at her house, I went.
I was a little uncomfortable, but appreciated the creative energy poured into making crafts and themed food for the kids. But I still declined invitations from other friends to join their families for trick or treating. I just couldn't embrace that.
During this time I talked to lots of different people about Halloween and I read a Catholic priest’s (unfortunately I can’t remember who!) perspective on the history of Halloween and its place in the Church. He made an interesting point of the significance of medieval Christians using Halloween as an artistic way to recognize their own mortality. We all die. We all face judgment for our moral decisions. I can understand that.
But maybe more importantly, I came to accept the concept that children dressing up as imaginary characters and gathering candy from neighbors was not inherently bad.
Two years ago our family dabbled in trick or treating, hitting up a couple blocks with our pastor and his four kids. And then last year we went all out, everyone dressing up, attending a community Halloween carnival and trick or treating with a large group of families. It was kind of fun and my kids loved it – especially the “with a large group of families” aspect of it.
But honestly, Halloween still makes me a little comfortable. And I think the caveat is that I believe in a literal Satan – not a comical red-horned, pitch-forked cartoon, but a real evil force waging war on humanity. I don’t think celebrating Halloween is tantamount to worshiping the Devil, but it does seem to mock spiritual things in a discrediting way that undermines our struggle against evil.
And Now .....
This year Kip carved pumpkins with the kids. The kids each designed their own costumes and we went to two Halloween parties.
The first was on Friday night at the Nickelodeon studio. One of our friends works there and gave us tickets to their in-house party. The kids decorated cookies and “trick-or-treated” through the office cubicles. Ironically, having grown up watching Nickelodeon, I was more impressed with the location then they were.
As my 11-year-old daughter pointed out, It’s just Sponge Bob.
But it was a fun party and a nice family time.
On Saturday night, actual Halloween, we went with Kip and his band to a Harvest party at a church in Ventura. Unlike the parties of my childhood, this one was in the church’s parking lot and was a clear, open invitation to everyone in the neighborhood. The costumes weren’t restricted to Biblical characters and there was no one distributing anti-Halloween cartoon tracks.
There were moon bounces and face painting, cotton candy and carnival games. Last year at the community sponsored Halloween carnival my kids bought tickets and got to bounce for a couple minutes while a sweaty line of costumed kids impatiently waited for their turns. This year the kids played in the moon bounce for hours, stopping only to run over to the cookie decorating booth and pumpkin bowling.
My kids and the friend we brought along loved it.
Everything was given as a free gift to the community and the only advertisement for the church was a banner across the band stage that announced the services at 10 a.m. If I lived in Ventura, I’d visit that church. The people there clearly wanted to get to know their neighbors. Maybe they are finding a better way to inch toward a healthy balance of faith and culture.