I have a complicated relationship with Halloween.
On the one hand, I want to think of this October holiday as just a sweet little cultural tradition. It’s always been a chance to dress up in whatever way I’d like, and having children has made this even greater fun. Someone once told me that any candy consumed on Halloween would contain zero calories, so this day is an excellent opportunity to eat ALL. OF. IT.
There’s something darker, however, that looms just below the surface of the masks and under the face paint of this holiday. Halloween has a dense and controversial history. The day was originally a Celtic holiday, set aside to honor Druidic gods with sacrifices. In another century, people believed that the Lord of Death actually sent evil spirits to assault humans. The only way to escape those spirits was for the humans to trick them by disguising themselves to look like nasty spirits as well. Yikes. Later, Christians tried to redeem the holiday by celebrating the Saints (All Saints Day). Throughout my childhood on Halloween, many of my friends dressed up as innocent things like princesses and superheroes and pretty much ignored the history. Some of my friends holed up in their homes, turned out all the lights and didn’t really want to talk to me about why. My own family did a little bit of both.
I remember my parents sitting down with my siblings and me several times at different stages of my life to talk about the disturbing things behind the catchy facades of Halloween decor and festivities. We discussed the history of the day and the very real scary things that happen in our world. My parents explained that Satan himself wants nothing more than for us to ignore evil and to pretend it’s not a threat. This all seems very religious, and I didn’t understand it at first, which is why they continued to talk about it as I grew up. Based on how we were processing things, according to what my parents heard from us about the state of our hearts, we participated and refrained from participating in Halloween differently nearly every year.
The only consistency for Halloween was dress up. My mom was a drama director and I was privileged to always have handy a few costumes. On a regular (daily) basis, my siblings and I had the chance to become royalty from different eras, movie characters, lions and dinosaurs, local heroes and important historical figures. Halloween was certainly no exception to the dress up clothing shenanigans. In October of every year, we crafted full costumes whether or not we participated in something around our neighborhood on the 31st. I remember donning a special outfit on more than one occasion and making trips to the store which I felt were specifically intended to show off my costume. (I have to admit that they were always better when I let my mom help make them).
Things I have tried on Halloween throughout the years:
- Trick or Treat (In neighborhoods, at nursing homes, or businesses)
- Game/candy/costume family night
- Church Harvest Festivals (gatherings with candy and activities)
- Handing out goodies (candy, stickers, pencils, snacks… tracts…)
- Pizzas shaped like pumpkins
- Candy. So much candy…
- Ignoring the holiday all together
Things I don’t love about Halloween and choose not to engage with:
- “Innocent” references to death (skeletons, ghosts, tombstones…)
Before I had experienced first-hand the trauma of the death of a loved one, I thought nothing of these things. Now, many of these references are triggers into some disturbing memories and questions in my head.
- Immature but not illegal shenanigans (egging, toilet papering, large groups of teenagers yelling profanities while my kids try to sleep)
Gross. No. Stop it. Can we not!?
- Crime and terror
Rates of crime skyrocket on halloween… there’s something about wearing disguises for some people that help them to believe that it’s okay to harm others. Some of the crime may seem harmless even if it really isn’t and other things that happen are unspeakable and should be punished to the highest extent of the law. It’s important to be aware that real evil does exist, that it’s closer than you might think, and also that there are steps you can take to keep your family safe.
- Making light of evil (haunted houses, horror movies)
I believe that Satan does exist. He and his bounty of demons do terrible evil in the world. Pretending that they are not a threat is like giving them permission to wreak havoc. Dismissing him as a threat is contrary to what Jesus instructed and said about the devil. “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Yes, Jesus has defeated him, and he is on a short leash, but until the return of Christ, Satan still comes to “steal and kill and destroy” (John. 10:10).
This year, I have chosen to celebrate again with my family. Although my own costumes have become much less elaborate throughout the years, I thoroughly enjoy watching my kids get into the uniform of their favorite character. Or my favorite character.
My kids and I have been having a lot of discussions about evil this year, and I assume we will continue to do so. Martin Luther said that, “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.” Tonight, my 4-year-old will be Batman, my 2-year-old will be Superman, and I’m going to wear a Wonder Woman headband. Just as we feel the absence of the kids’ dad on every other holiday, we’ll likely feel it tonight. Instead of sinking into sorrow about that, though, we’re going to have fun as a family anyway. We’re going to consume some chocolate and tell Satan that we see him but are not bound by fear of him.