Hi, I'm Laura.
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I was a monster last Halloween. My house was quiet and still. I’d just magically settled to sleep a small miserable child with a roaring fever. My hands, my time, were my own for the first time in 12 hours. I made hot tea and collapsed for a date with Netflix.
Then I heard footsteps. Surely no! Once an orange balloon had arrived in our letterbox with a polite note inviting us to display it if happy for children to visit. As a Halloween Grinch, I binned that balloon. I hadn’t received another since.
Then the doorbell rang and rang with a host of shouts,“TRICK OR TREAT! TRICK OR TREAT!” And any exhausted caregiver of a sick sleeping child will know exactly what beast I had morphed into by the time I wrenched that door open.
I was not my best self that night.
I have mixed feelings about Halloween. But I suspect there is a better way to exist within the space Halloween is carving into my community than as a closed door or house of horrors.
This year I decided to give Halloween more thought.
What is Halloween exactly?
Well, there is no exactly. Halloween is a tree with a web of roots and branches. 2000 years ago the Celts lived in and around England. At the heart of Celtic spirituality was the rhythm of the seasons. When summer faded into the depths of winter, they believed the boundary blurred between the world of the living and the dead. Ghosts were thought to visit earth, yet also underworld creatures of destruction and chaos. To control the breach the Celts got busy celebrating ‘Samhain’.
Different communities had their own Samhain traditions, but often they burnt sacrifices and gifts on bonfires to placate the wrath of these monsters and prevent them causing trouble. Scary costumes were worn to help scare the monsters back into containment.
After 43 AD, the Romans swallowed the Celtic world. Some Roman celebrations of the dead merged into Samhain. After 300 AD, Christianity began to shift into the governing religion of the Roman Empire. In the 700s Pope Gregory III moved a feast day for dead saints, to the night before Samhain. This timed the feast with the harvest and layered a new Christian meaning onto the ancient tradition.
‘Halloween’ is ‘All Hallows Eve’—the eve of All Saints Day.
Some Protestants later banned Halloween to spite the Catholics.
In the 1800s Halloween arrived in America with Irish Catholics escaping the potato famine. It took on new shape as masked children terrorising the streets and proved perfect kindling for the flame of commercial capitalism. American consumers are expected to spend 9.1 billion on Halloween this year. The Washington Post suggests Australia did not readily adopt Halloween due to the conservative influence of Victorian England, a yoke revolutionary American had escaped.
Today an avalanche of pumpkins, autumn leaves, gore, monsters, heroes, princesses, sexy vampires, and coloured sugar invades the US landscape across October.
Halloween fever has overflowed into Australia and is taking root.
Is Halloween intrinsically evil?
Well, what is ‘intrinsic’ to Halloween? It has done so much shapeshifting. We are best to look at context, intent, and actuality. If your building is having a jolly dress-up party for the kids in the common area, I’d arrive with honey jumbles and make friends. If your book club invites you to a séance to contact the dead, I’d decline.
Some Halloween survival suggestions--
1. Go to the People.
We are to go to the nations not hide away in Christian ghettos. Our lives will always exist amongst different spirituality and how to respond a juggle. Paul taught that meat sacrificed to idols wasn’t evil to eat as the idol was an empty, but if eating idol meat would appear as idol worship, don’t eat. Paul raged that circumcision was a sign that pointed away from grace, yet he circumcised Timothy to help him connect to the Jews. How to live for Jesus out in the big wide world isn’t always one cut fits all.
If your community makes an event of Halloween that doesn’t burn your conscience or traumatise your children then it’s a chance to meet the locals. True community is hard to foster in our fast insular lives. An invitation is a gift. Even Jesus loved a party.
Yet I cringe to hear houses in America can receive 1000+ treat seekers. I would hope to see Australian Halloween be about neighbourly friendship, not a massive candy grab.
2. Stay Weird*
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things,” Paul taught. Halloween horror can be pushed to horrible extremes. To have houses, shops, and people all decorated with blood and gore can be traumatic to children and triggering to adults who have suffered violence.
Also, to quote a friend, “I just can’t get past the fact that trick or treat is privileged kids (like my own) asking for more stuff that they don’t need. With an implied threat if the person they ask doesn’t hand over the goods. What kind of lesson is that?”
Another friend is troubled by the excessive plastic waste.
We should not be ashamed to set our own tone in any situation. No need to be rude or preachy, but do stay weird. Do be beautiful, lovely, wise, and generous. There are endless playful and creative ways to be God’s light this All Hallows Eve.
Many of my friends spoke to me about doing exactly this.
3. Tell the truth.
Tell your children the history. Children love a story. Discuss what you will and won’t do as a family. Kids love being in the know. Encourage engaged thinking. Yet stay the parent. Missing a bucket of lollies doesn’t damage a child.
You could foster another family tradition. October is also the month to pack a box of treats for Operation Christmas Child.
4. No is a complete sentence.
You don’t have to Halloween, whatever your reasons. You can keep your children home. You can leave a note on the door saying no thanks. You are free.
5. Remember the truth.
When Halloween comes to town, let it trigger the truth. In Revelation the forces of evil mount for a war in horrific description. All looks set for a cataclysmic battle for earth. None happens. Jesus the lamb arrives. Jesus sweeps all opposition into the abyss and the new creation explodes like a field of cherry trees bursting full blossom.
Monsters will not forever walk on earth. But the kingdom of light and love seeded by Jesus is unfolding now, will be completed when Jesus returns, and is eternal.
I’ve no big plans for Wednesday. I’ve bought a bag of my favourite lollypops. If anyone dares visit I’ll put on my extrovert mask and be ready to meet some neighbours.
And stuck for costume ideas for the street party? Don’t forget it’s also Reformation Day. Dress up little Lucy up as Martin Luther and peg a copy of the Ninety-Five Theses to the back of baby Henry. Think of all the juicy questions you’ll provoke.
*I may have stolen ‘weird’ from Mike Frost’s new book ‘Keep Christianity Weird’, which I haven’t read but is on my list. I have just finished his ‘Surprise the Word! The Five Habits of Highly Missional People’, which was excellent, full with wonderful suggestions for how to do Kingdom living amongst everyday life.
A big thank you to all the friends who shared with me their Halloween worries, delights, and traditions, encouraging me to think deeper about Halloween and making this blog post possible.
I would love to hear how you do Halloween in the comments...