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We all know that Halloween, just like Valentines and Easter and Christmas, is highly commercialized. Gone are the pillow cases and apples and homemade costumes. Buy your Halloween bucket at Walmart!
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I want to examine present day Halloween festivities without delving into its origins–whether it began as a harvest festival, or as a festival of the dead, whether it has Celtic pagan roots with bizarre rituals, or Christian beginnings–a Hallowed Eve preceding All Saints Day.
When we lived in the Philippines, All Saints Day was a huge holiday and families faithfully placed food on the graves of the deceased. On Halloween children went and sang in front of homes in hopes of receiving a few coins. Even adults did so, sometimes dressed as the twelve disciples, going from home to home singing and collecting money. There were no costumes and of course no pumpkins.
But in North America we are all familiar with the symbols and trappings and activities of the occasion,–candy, costumes, masquerades, pumpkins, pranks, haunted houses, witches, ghosts, etc.
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Halloween will mean different things to different people. When I went to the mall with my firstborn in a stroller, wide-eyed, taking in all the hideous displays of the occasion, I wanted to cover his eyes, shield him from all that represents evil in the world. To me Halloween pretty much covered it.
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I was in a store one year and observed a father taunting his five or six year old son as he recoiled in fear when he shoved an ugly Halloween symbol in his face. I remember thinking, this is how we teach intimidation and bullying and how we destroy innocence.
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Since then, each year during the harvest season I re-evaluated my perspective of Halloween. As the day approached I was so preoccupied that I frequently forgot my father-in-law’s birthday which falls on November 1st.
What is Halloween without the fear factor? Some people crave the adrenalin rush fear incites, as a weird kind of high. Without this there would be no ticket sales to horror flicks, no customers for graphic psycho thrillers.
I walked through the Dollar Store the other day. Halloween displays are out, right along with Christmas, ironically. I saw, among the skeletons and skulls, chocolate eyeballs, and a hacked off, bandaged and bloody foot. I admit I felt a little sick.
What do children think when they see these, I ask myself? What feelings do these images arouse? What is the impact?
As I was a child I remember for a time hanging around kids who told ghosts stories and I could repeat a scary story pretty well myself. It was an abbreviated season in my life but it helped me relate to the thrill of the scare factor. I soon found myself avoiding the unpleasantness.
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Here in Vancouver we recently had the Vancouver Zombie Walk. This is the perspective of the organizers:
Though we big kids all see the fun in it, small children may not and if you see any children reacting fearfully, please do not add to their distress. Just move on and let their parents explain. Do NOT accidentally be the douche who gives them nightmares for a week by leering in their face! However, if they’re into it, they’re fair game for fun, like ALL of the living! Vancouver Zombie Walk 2013
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So is this really all it is, fun and games? Something you enjoy? Is it something you prefer, like you prefer chocolate brownies to cream puffs? Let’s not kid ourselves. We all know that Halloween is an opportunity to glorify what is dark and deadly.
As a child I had a fascination with Halloween. For me it was about black cats, witches on broomsticks, pumpkins, and of course masks and trick or treating. In elementary school we made pictures of these symbols and put them up on the walls and windows of our classroom. I had not training about Halloween from my parents. We did not attend church, so I had no religious teaching back then.
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My parents never had a very strong conviction about Halloween and basically let us kids do what we wanted. My aunt took us out trick or treating for the first time when I was seven. I remember that some folks complained that we had no costumes, while others they complimented us and gave us extra candy for not dressing up. In my mind I was absorbing this information and asking myself if it was indeed bad to dress up.
But many churches I have attended since frowned on any Halloween activity and created their own separate “Harvest” event for the children, featuring, of course, lots of candy. I once helped decorate for one of these events and made the mistake of thinking that a black, lace, spider-web table cloth would be nice on the table in the entry, but I was quickly told to remove it.
- Black Lace Tablecloth on sale at tias.com
Is it possible to enjoy Halloween without the dark scenes and themes, without sinking to the depths of evil–death, mutilation, witchcraft, demonism? Are there elements that we can redeem, things that are fun and beautiful, unspoiled?
The churches I have attended have taken a dim view on Halloween, perhaps understandably, and as a result my husband and I never allowed our children to go trick or treating. Our boys never made a fuss because there was always a fun alternative, but when our son left for BIble College we heard that he and his friends went trick or treating. Recent immigrants in the neighborhood were happy to hand out candy to these silly young adults.
When I was in primary school I asked my friend’s dad if she could go begging. Maybe I should have used the words “trick or treating.” He gruffly told me that his family didn’t go “begging.” An article by a pastor friend of mine essentially says the same thing–Halloween is of the devil and Christians will have nothing to do with it.
One year we visited my husband’s aunt around Halloween and she asked us if we gave out candies, “Or are you too cheap to give candies to little children?” I admit we were influenced by teaching not to participate in Halloween, but we were no longer in a church that dictated what to do. My husband and I talked and decided that it would be a positive thing for us to hand out candy. It was a charitable thing to do, a way to get to know our neighbors and their children. Handing out candy to innocent children felt good, even if we didn’t believe in everything the occasion represented.
After the kids had come by for candies, we decided to go for a walk in the neighbourhood. It was truly one of the most gorgeous, “magical” nights I had ever seen. The street lights shone off of the red and orange colored maple trees. The leaves rustled beneath our feet as we walked. A few stragglers in costumes were still out, and to our great surprise we ran into a family from our church. The children were “begging” and the father was reverting to his childhood and lighting a few fire crackers in the street. I admit it took my husband and I back to our childhoods when I dressed up like an “Indian” in a fringed gunny sack and his mom dressed him up as an old woman with a curly wig.
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After that night my thinking underwent a transformation. I saw the evening as God’s evening–the gorgeous colours, the sweet air, the still night. Even the candles glowing in the pumpkins were beautiful.
Recently I have been introduced to Liz Curtis Higgs‘ children’s book, The Pumpkin Patch Parable. It makes me realize we can look at pumpkin carving in our own unique way. We can tell our children our own stories about Halloween.
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I think Halloween is an unequalled opportunity to teach our children how to respond when faced with the dark side of life. Are they to cloister themselves in churches, or is it alright to hand out candy to neighborhood children?
What about going door to door? What about costumes? When I was young we bought a scary mask or two. It’s what kids love to do. But our parents frowned on masks so we dressed up creatively using make-up and non-threatening costumes.
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Choosing costumes is a great opportunity for parents to talk to their children about values. For instance, what do skeletons represent and would this be a reason why you might you not want to dress like one? What are the other options? Talk about how your family feels about themes around death. Make your children aware of the dark side of Halloween, but show them they can choose light.
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I refused to go on a local Halloween train ride because the artistic producer told me it would feature mutilated babies. Talk to your children about how they feel inside when they see certain images. Is this a comfortable feeling they want to have again? Would they like to avoid it? How could they do that?
When I was older I wanted to go to a masquerade but never did. Sometimes in large gatherings there can be a lot of peer pressure to do things you are not comfortable doing. I think I realized this.
As Christians we pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” As children, and even as adults, there are times when we have to look ahead and plan to avoid temptation.
Some children find it very important to see and experience what their peers are telling them about. Rather than a sharp, “no,” you might want to talk about different scenarios. DIscuss possibilities and prepare them for what could happen. Let them know that you want to be sure they are safe and that they are making wise choices.
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Probably the most scary situation for a child is to find him or herself in a place where they don’t have a choice, or where they feel forced into choosing something they would rather not do. As parents we know that the dark side exists, and that it is dangerous, and it is our responsibility to protect our children, prevent early exposure to situations beyond their understanding and control, and prepare them for eventualities.
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I can understand why many churches refuse to have anything to do with Halloween. They see it as evil, and much of it is. It would be a lot of work to sort out what, if anything, to keep, and what to discard, and then to explain this decision making process to the congregation. As you can imagine, it would be very time consuming. Undoubtedly there would also be a lot of different opinions to consider. So it’s easier to just forbid the lacy spider web table covering, and anything else black or orange, or Halloween-related.
I suggest that when our children are old enough to understand and ask questions, we talk to them about the aspects of Halloween that are playful, fun, maybe even scary, as opposed to those which are vulgar, repulsive, degrading and evil. Teach them to think. Teach them to choose wisely.
It might be a good idea to look at Halloween from the perspective of love. From this vantage point it might not be so bad to turn on the outdoor light and hand out candy to neighborhood children or to allow our children to dress up and go door to door with their friends. We might even decide to decorate for Halloween!
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I happen to like the color orange, and I like decorating. I’ve decided it is not an ‘all or nothing’ attitude when it comes to Halloween. There is definitely some sorting out to be done. I incline toward what is life-giving and uplifting and it saddens me to see how evil and the grotesque is paraded and gloated over on Halloween. But, I reiterate, we can teach our children to be discerning, to pray, to understand and explain their choices, to respond lovingly to others and perhaps even have some good clean fun with their friends on Halloween.
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