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Every year the kids of our streets, neighborhoods, and cities go door to door asking the famous phrase: “trick or treat?” If you live in North America, no matter what background you come from, you’ve at least witnessed the evening of October 31. I grew up in a Christian home and we were always allowed to dress up and take part in this somewhat silly tradition. That said, there was always a sense of the “unknown.” What kind of costumes can we wear? Do we take part in the “church Halloween party” or go door-to-door? My brother and I definitely dressed up and had fun doing so, but let’s just say we were “seriously” encouraged to be a clown before a vampire.
Depending on your background, you may be reading this and think we were deprived children. After all, Halloween is only a silly little tradition of dressing up and getting candy. It’s true, the evil origins of Halloween are long forgotten, and the occasion is no different from any other retail-boosting, consumeristic date on the calendar. As I got older, however, I noticed something about Halloween – it’s still built on fear.
Fear is hardly a good thing. A healthy fear (also known as “respect”) certainly has its benefits, but genuine fear leads to unhealthy discomfort, distrust, anxiety and worry. As a Christian, I’m called to give those feelings over to God and He’ll take care of me (Psalm 55:22). Why then, would I want to play on the fears of others?
The answer may be confusing, but here’s just a brief background to the Halloween we know today:
“All Hallows Eve”, “All Saints Day” and “All Souls Day”
Traditionally, October 31 has been known as “All Hallows Eve.” Hallow means “to make holy.” The day points towards “All Saint’s Day” on November 1 – a day with feasts and celebrations in honour of all the saints. November 2 follows as “All Souls Day” – a day specifically for those who believe in purgatory by where prayers are raised for every soul. These three days have been traditionally a three-day celebration of those who have gone before us.i
Celtics and the Druids
Before converting to Christianity in Europe, the Druids had their New Year’s celebrations on the same dates. It was believed that the souls of the dead could return home for a night, only to be kept away by sacrifices, feasts, dressing like them to appear to be one of them, or by using a jack-o-lantern (which would scare away evil spirits and provide a light).ii
Transition to Today…
In the centuries of development and transition, October 31 has become something very different. We now call the evening “Halloween,” which literally means: “the evening of becoming holy (saints)”; and yet, socially means: “dress up in scary and/or fun costumes and hope to get as much candy as possible.” While there are many evil traditions that have brought fear into October 31, the desire to have a ‘protecting light’ seems to have always been present.
Salt and Light (Matthew 5)
Jesus refers to his followers as the “salt” and “light” of the earth.iii In a night that is still heavily based on fear, Jesus calls His followers to be the “salt” and the “light.” Jesus expects his followers to live out the life they have received and shine a light on the ultimate protecting light – Jesus Christ.
How can we be the “salt” and the “light” on Halloween?
Our church pondered this a couple of years ago, and came to this conclusion – “be light in a dark night!” Here are some of the ways our church has taken action:
- Welcome kids
On the night when nearly every child in the community will come knocking on your door, I can’t imagine Jesus advising us not share His love and compassion. After all, Jesus did say, “let the little children come to me…”iv So don’t turn off your lights and lock your doors on Halloween. Instead, meet every child with simile. Be a light in a dark night.
- Share God’s love
You don’t have to literally witness to every child that asks, “trick or treat?” But you can share God’s love by being warm and not fearful, by complementing their costume, or by squatting down to meet them in the eye and say, “have a fun and safe night!” You can be a light in a dark night.
- Go Trick-or-Treating
What better way to show others how God has impacted your life, than by having fun and potentially diffusing the “fear” that’s normally visible. Dress up as your favorite cartoon character, super hero, or maybe a household object like a lamp. Have fun and be a light in a dark night.
- Meet a Need
Some towns have a Pumpkin Patrol by where adults volunteer to supervise the streets and to make sure kids stay safe. Every year, our church gives out bags of candy, pop, chips and bars and offers free hot chocolate to all the parents. It’s amazing how many chilly parents appreciate a warm beverage as their kids try to fill their pillow cases with candy!
Yes, some will still participate in devilish activities; yes, some will dress up in evil characters; and, yes, some will even play on the fears of others. But it’s because of all of those things that make Halloween such a great opportunity to be a light. Jesus is waiting for His followers to be the salt (something worth following) and to be a light (shining towards Jesus). By welcoming kids, sharing God’s love, participating as a light, and meeting some simple needs on Halloween, we can be a light in a dark night.
How will you be a light on Halloween?
[i] “Celebrating Halloween, All Saints”, AmericanCatholic.org, accessed October 28, 2015, http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/Halloween/halloween08.asp.
[ii] “Halloween: It’s Origins and Celebration.” EWTN, accessed October 28, 2015, http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/hallween.htm.
[iii] Mathew 5:13-16.
[iv] Matthew 19:14.