It’s strange isn’t it that October 31st has become quite the big deal in some ways, yet less so in other ways. In fact, that’s true of this time of year generally. Back when I was a child in the 1970s-80s, there were things that were big about late October/early November.
Bonfire Night was fast approaching. School lessons would go over Guy Fawkes failed plot. We’d watch stacks of wood being assembled on any bit of spare ground. Then we’d see people out and about carrying “The Guy” ( a roughly stuffed together effigy representing the failed plotter to eventually sit atop the bonfire). “Penny for the guy” they’d cry. My mum had short shrift for anyone trying to extract money or sweets out of us until carol singers turned up in December. On Bonfire night itself, we’d mix and match between some bangers and rockets let off in our own garden and a tour of the various local bonfires. From the right vantage point you could see the various fires around the city and watch the fireworks. The emphasis then was more on the bonfire and less on the fireworks. Don’t forget the parkin pigs and toffee apples too!
Nowadays, Bonfire night has been replaced with “Fireworks” month. Families tend to prefer going to much more controlled, large-scale displays and the emphasis is on the spectacular display in the sky. Bonfire night has become both smaller and larger.
I don’t remember there being such a great build up to Halloween. The night would arrive out of nowhere and so you either headed out “trick or treating” or waited in for visitors, either in anticipation or fear. Our house was decidedly anti-Halloween. That was due to a mixture of the aforementioned concern about legalised begging and concern at the potential dangers in placing the focus on evil. Turn up at our house and you might get a stern warning about such dangers and an invitation to come back at Christmas (I think you were meant to turn up to sing carols rather than dressed as a vampire again). In Yorkshire, there was an additional evening. So seriously did we take the need for diversity when it came to teen thuggery that we’d invented a whole extra festival – Mischief Night – when you were free to go out and do criminal damage (the trick) to anyone who had failed to come up with the goods when it came to treats.
Nowadays, Halloween has its whole month of preparations just like Christmas. Shops and restaurant entrances are decorated up -as are houses. There’s a whole fancy dress market for the commercial world to exploit. At the same time, Halloween has become narrower. Trick or Treators are less and less likely to show up at your door unannounced unless you have given clear, pre-arranged, indication that a visit is welcome. Treats are therefore pretty much guaranteed and tricks more or less eliminated. Maybe we are just less into our surprises.
All of this leaves us with that big, age-old question about what to do with Halloween. There seem to be three options for Christians. We can choose to ignore it, to treat it as nothing to do with us. We can confront it, both in terms of the commercialism and the unhealthy interest in darkness and evil. Or, thirdly, we could embrace it. We could choose to enter into the fun of the season. After all, there may well be some benefit even in mocking the ridiculousness of evil. Or if we don’t want to go the full hog, perhaps we can send our kids along to parties or greeting people with a cheery “Happy Halloween” and the hope of sweets, dressed up as fairies, princesses and super heroes.
Each possibility has its pros and its cons. Whilst some of what I’ve said above about needing to opt in to Trick or Treat makes it easier to avoid and ignore for some, I think it’s much harder for parents of young children and for teenagers to ignore. Perhaps then we should just go all out and confront the darkness -but will our voices be heard? Indeed, isn’t there the risk that the Christians at number 42 who give you a lecture on “doorways to danger” become part of the Halloween entertainment (culminating with a few eggs hitting the windows later on)?
I think there is another option and that is to go with subversive fulfilment. Regular readers will be familiar with this theme from when I’ve written about apologetics and missiology. This is the idea that we can identify the needs and longings of people around us, offering them hope as Christ alone can truly fulfil their deepest longings. It starts though with subversion because our hopes and dreams are idolatrous. We need to be turned around.
Subversive fulfilment will recognise that much of what is happening at this time of year is, that people are seeking warmth, light and welcome as we head into the darker months of winter. The ongoing ominous threats from Putin in the East and the cost of switching on the central heating makes it all the more poignant this year. So, as well as that immediate concern to find light, and laughter are those big questions about life and purpose. In fact, the origins of the Christian festival of All Hallows or All Souls was about offering answers to those questions, about what happens when we die.
So, how might we go about it? Well, I’m up for things like Light Parties where we welcome families to join us as we celebrate light and life, pointing them to Jesus. What if we were to not only do these in our church buildings but in our homes, on our streets? Then, I think we can also be ready to welcome Halloween visitors with a tasty treat and perhaps some literature that will point the family to hope (but don’t feel that you need to force a Gospel presentation in if you are just at the stage of connecting with neighbours and building friendships).
Could we take things a step further? What if you were to take your kids out in fancy dress “Treating”? Instead of demanding treats on pain of tricks, what if we in our family groups we were to happily offer treats instead? A goody bag, again with a Gospel or suchlike offering hope. Oh and we’d be following on from the first “Trick or treater” – Martin Luther who turned up at the door ready with a statement of great truth and hope. Though perhaps don’t go nailing things to people’s doors, not only are they unlikely to appreciate your artistic efforts but nails don’t tend to go too well into PVC.