It’s Halloween, and even though the weatherman is calling for rain, the “soldier” in our house is planning on braving the elements and trick-or-treating tonight (though he is worried that his Nerf darts will get wet). Mrs. F. and I are raising our kids to be faithful young people, which raises the question: Do I as a pastor see a problem with our kids’ participating in Halloween? The short answer is, “No.” Some further thoughts below.
I was my son’s age 30 years ago, and I’ve been thinking about the differences between his experience of trick-or-treating and mine. I think there is a lot about America that we can learn from Halloween, and sadly, most of the changes that have taken place these past 30 years have been for the worse.
As in so many areas of childhood, most of the fun of Halloween was in the expectation: what would I be, and how much loot could I get from my neighbors’ largesse? As soon as the calendar turned to October, I’d begin thinking about my costume. When I was a kid, I seem to remember that most kids made their costumes, not bought them from the store. Making your costume was part of the fun. There is no question that Halloween has become much more manufactured and commercialized over the past 30 years. As in many other areas of American life, our obsessive desire to express ourselves as individuals has meant that we have become more like everyone else: everyone just wears the same mass-produced junk made in China. (What do these millions of Chinese people toiling in factories think about us? How stupid and frivolous must they think we are.)
There was an unwritten rule in my neighborhood that teenagers were too old to trick-or-treat: Halloween was supposed to be for elementary age children and younger. These days, Halloween seems to be more and more about adults, and this is a change I don’t welcome. I remember last year walking with my children up to some houses and feeling really uncomfortable: many of the adult costumes seemed to be as sexualized and violent as possible.
I think that’s another change I have sadly noticed: for me, trick-or-treating was mainly about kids running around the neighborhood in the twilight, and that was certainly the large part of the fun: you were by yourself, with no parents! But today, like most American parents of our class and background, the idea of letting our kids roam free in the dark in our community seems crazy to me and my wife. Maybe American life is more dangerous now than it was 30 years ago, but I liked it better when parents felt fine letting their kids roam by themselves.
Don’t get me wrong: not all the changes have been for the worse. For example, these days the candy has definitely gotten better. My brothers and I would eat a heaping pile of candy when we got home from trick-or-treating–against our mom’s protestations–and then store the rest in those round Christmas cookie tins, which we kept under our beds. For the next few days, our school lunches would have much more sugar than usual, but after that the same thing would happen every year: we’d eat all the good stuff that first week of November, only to dig out the cans from under our beds months later and find within them forlorn Charleston Chews and Tootie Rolls and other worse candies (if that’s possible) that weren’t even dignified enough to have been given names. What I would have given for a full-size Milky Way bar!
I know folks who object to Halloween on the grounds that the day celebrates evil and the occult. Though I certainly understand their concerns, I personally don’t have any problem with the silly and fun aspects of trick-or-treating and dressing up. For me, this is a 1 Corinthians 8 issue: I don’t find any problem per se with my children participating in the silly aspects of Halloween, though if other Christians have concluded otherwise for their families, I certainly support them and understand that point of view. And, though Halloween is crassly commercial, frankly in my household it seems to be much less damaging than just basic tv and internet consumption anyway. So, in our family we have fun trick-or-treating, and Halloween is not something I find to be spiritually and morally dangerous for my children.
Which is not to say there aren’t elements of Halloween that I do in fact find spiritually and morally dangerous.
There’s that scene in the movie Mean Girls where the protagonist, who has grown up in Africa, finds herself in her first high school Halloween party back in America, and is shocked to see how all the other girls have used the occasion to dress up in as slutty and provocative a way as possible. Here’s what she says:
In the regular world, Halloween is when children dress up in costumes and beg for candy. In Girl World, Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress up like a total slut and no other girls can say anything else about it.
I think the scene is (unintentionally) instructive: we have come to accept the sexualization of everything as normal, and what we have come to accept as normal is shocking and strange to people who haven’t been indoctrinated in Western culture. We are obsessed with sex, and even though the miserable results of this obsession are all around us, we persist in worshipping at Aphrodite’s temple. The same is true for the way we deliberately embrace evil on Halloween. I was listening to The Ticket this morning as I drove home from working out; Gordo and Junior were talking about serial killers and prison beatings, etc., and so I turned off the radio–I don’t want to fill my mind with evil. Because, let’s be clear: dismemberment and murder and the like are evil actions. I’ll go further–they are manifestations of the demonic. Do those things occur? Of course–this is a fallen world–but they don’t need to be celebrated.
I think it is spiritually foolish and morally problematic to celebrate evil and violence in costume and decoration, much less to investigate the occult. We should flee from such things, and not deliberately welcome them into our homes.
So, I understand why some people strongly dislike Halloween. There will be some houses tonight which we will quickly walk past and avoid. My children are only children once, and they will encounter the violence and sexualization of our world soon enough. When they do, I want them to be discerning enough to discriminate between harmless fun and harmful evil, and Halloween can be a way for them to learn how to do so.
So, tonight, I look forward to taking my kids out in the rain and letting them eat way more sugar than is good for them, to welcome the coming change of season and enjoy something fun about being an American child. And then, I hope to teach them one last Halloween lesson: how to discern good candy from Tootsie Rolls.