Friday, October 8, 2010

Halloween Dilemma

For those of you who aren't Christians, you may not know that Halloween is a debate similar to the vaccine debate for parents. People fall into two distinct camps and I don't find that there is much middle ground. You are either against Halloween as being satanic and judge Christians who allow their children to celebrate as being "worldly" or, you allow your children to celebrate Halloween and you think of Christians who don't as being judgmental, harsh and/or fundamentalist. I hate black and white issues because I never want to be wrong and Halloween is one of those situations in which I know that I will be wrong in someone's eyes. I hate that.

Today, the issue came up again. I am the fellowship coordinator at our church and I lead the committee that makes the decisions about the social events we hold. Someone made the suggestion that we have a movie night on Halloween to "get the children off the streets". It was obvious that she was totally opposed to Halloween (especially when I emailed her to ask how she felt about kids wearing positive costumes to the movie night - I'd like Pk to dress up but I would not be heartbroken about her not having oodles of candy - the answer was a resounding no). It made me really uncomfortable as I felt like she felt I was a lesser-Christian and too worldly by far. I hate being judged more than anything and when it comes to my faith, it really hits a sore spot (my parents, especially my mom, have some, well... very liberal ideas and I grew up in the church feeling like people thought we were not Christian enough so I'm pretty sensitive about that). I spent the day brooding on Halloween. I suppose I have to thank this person because, through the course of the day and through a discussion with my minister and with dh, I think I have decided where I stand.

Before I declare my reasons for allowing Pk to participate in Halloween, allow me to state that I feel that there are some really good reasons to be concerned about Halloween. I make a large distinction between taking young kids out in sweet costumes to visit friends and family, and haunted houses, horror movies, mass murderer costumes and corpses hanging from trees in people's yards. The Bible is clear that we are to avoid sorcery, divination, any kind of the occult. I have no issue with that at all and, as Philippians 4:8 states

Finally, brothers, 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.

We are not supposed to dabble in the darker side of the world and the less attention we give it, the better. It would, in some ways, be easy to say a total no to Halloween and be done with it. For some reason, though, that just doesn't feel right to me.

Dh and I have agreed that Pk will be living in this world. To us, that means that the burden falls upon us to teach her how to live in this world. She will need to make moral decisions all the time, she will need to weigh how all kinds of life situations fit with her faith. Instead of an absolute no, having Halloween in our lives gives us the chance to discuss the smaller decisions - is it o.k. to wear a certain costume? what kind of message does that outfit convey to the world? does it fit with her Christian world view? would she be proud to have her God see her dressed that way or is it something of which she would be ashamed? She will have to justify her choices to us and to her friends, giving her a chance to share her beliefs but in a context that does not automatically come across as judgement of others, which shuts people down. There will be room for conversation.

One thing my minister said that hits home (and he was not arguing for or against, he was just sharing some insights into the struggle to make a decision, so don't read into my quoting him as being his absolute position). He said that we don't want to be parents who say no all the time. That breeds rebellion. We believe that in celebrating Halloween as a family, we are seizing it as our own and making it into something that fits with our beliefs rather than turning it into something verboten, something tempting and alluring. We don't want our faith to be something that our children view as being a stumbling block, something that takes away all fun and disconnects them from the world around them. Sure, there are things that will need to be an absolute no but we feel that we need to reserve that strong no for the things that really go against all that we believe so that it retains its power.

Another thing my minister said really stuck with me. He said that some Christians keep the light off and stay in the basement instead of giving out candy. His wife made an interesting observation. We are supposed to be light in the world. If we are hiding away, are we really being that light? That led me to reflect on how we might use Halloween to be light in the world. Might we, as Christians, show others that we CAN have fun and that the Christian life is full of joy? We can enjoy ourselves and be a part of things but in a way that does not compromise our lives as Christians. We can model being involved parents who oversee our children, parents who enjoy our children and who create memories and morals that endure with our children long after they leave home. We can create environments that are safe so that children around us have an alternative to the dark and scary side of Halloween.

Finally, one other thing from this week really hit home. I was listening to an interview with Dannah Gresh of Pure Freedom, a ministry that works with girls and mothers to navigate the rough waters of modesty and perceptions of beauty in our culture, with a particular focus on adolescent girls. She was saying that having a particular kind of connectedness with daughters can be a huge indicator of how well they will navigate the teen years. This connectedness is achieved largely between the ages of 8 and 12 and is done through building a shared culture, a shared bank of wonderful memories and a sense of belonging. We see Halloween as a chance to do just that.

As you can see, we will be taking Pk trick-or-treating this year (she has an adorable ladybug costume and Baby Bean will be going out in a cute little outfit with an orange shirt that says "Mommy's Little Pumpkin" with a cute jack-o-lantern on the bum). We will only be going to houses of friends and family and we will not be engaging in any of the "darker" side of Halloween. Daddy is already excited about taking her out and he is planning his costume as well. If costumes are not welcome, we won't be going to the church (and I strongly suspect that few people will, most families in our church do take their kids out on Halloween). I respect those who choose not to participate and I hope that they will respect my decision, as well.


  1. This is a very well-thought out and mature position to take. I was first going to comment and say that I would call myself one of those middle-of-the-road Christians when it comes to Halloween. Although a favorite time of year, it's not my favorite holiday. But ONLY because of the celebration and glorification of evil and death and gore that some insist on associating with this day.

    I grew up in a Christian home and our church had an awesome annual party on Halloween. It was called "All Saints Party" and we dressed up as Bible characters and tried to stump the panel of judges. All the little girls were Mary or Queen Esther... I don't remember a single time trick-or-treating. I don't feel slighted at all by this, but I think it's because I had an equally fun opportunity that I looked forward to every year. As a teenager, my parents gave me the choice - go out with friends on Halloween or go to church. I always chose church because I really liked it.

    I went through a phase where I wanted nothing to do with Halloween, but as a violin teacher to many young students, it was hard to pretend it wasn't there.

    We have taken our girls trick-or-treating every year. They love talking about what they want to dress up as and they look forward to it so much! Because we don't have a lot of friends and no family where we live, we end up just picking a neighborhood and going there. Last year we went with another family and had a party of our own before going out. I requested all adults wear costumes and our kids thought we were the greatest!

    Sadly, this year we will be on vacation. I know they celebrate Halloween everywhere, but we don't know where we'll end up that night. I think I'll take some costumes along, just in case.

    I do think the older they get, the more cautious and intentional you have to be. Sydney is getting more and more aware each year. I shop cautiously this time of year, staying away from ugly displays, but it can't always be helped.

    I think your approach is a very intentional one. I have been having people in my homeschool co-op ask me..."What do you think of Halloween? or How do you handle Halloween?" I like the opportunity to share and keep my explanation simple.

    Can't wait to see pictures of your ladybug and little pumpkin!

  2. NOt being Christian, perhaps I don't really have a place in this discussion, but to me, what you allow really needs to consider the message at the heart of it, or how to make it a message about what you value. So here, you are taking something and making it a message about fun and togetherness and celebration, rather than dwelling on how *some* people interpret it.

    Similarly with things like Harry Potter, which you made me think of, because it does have sorcery and divination in it, but it is ultimately a strong message of the triumph of good over evil, and at the heart of it lies the message that love is powerful over hate.

    Things can be beautiful and positive, even where others may see them as dark or use them to justify their own darkness.

  3. Kittenpie, you can always comment, Christian or not. The funny thing is, I was kind of thinking of you when I was thinking of the post - you may not be Christian but you guys tend to create the kind of pro-children and positive value environment that we are looking for. You guys THINK - something that so many parents don't do these days. I think that very few parents are out deliberately pursuing the really dark, occult elements associated with Halloween but I can't tell you how many kids come in to school terrified by scary costumes or, even worse, the horror movies their parents have on.

  4. I am so happy that you posted this. I am like you in that I enjoy halloween, but not the 'darker' side of it. I love seeing the kids all dressed up, having a great time collecting candy and playing in their costumes. I LOVE dressing up, myself. Always have. My parents used to take us out trick or treating when we were really little, and as we got older they took the 'Halloween is evil' view, and rented movies and had popcorn and candy at home we would indulge in, but as for dressing up... they didn't say anything either way. As long as it wasn't ghosts and goblins and the like, we were ok, but they didn't help us with our costumes.

    My sister decided to have a costume party this last weekend, and it was so much fun to see everyone who dressed up, all pretending, all going back to those days when we were kids and having fun pretending to be somebody else. I see no harm in that. And the kids love it!

    I will also be taking my kids out on Halloween.