This is one of those topics where when I don't see a clear right and wrong, so I choose to err on the side of caution...but admittedly, I waffle every year on how to handle the whole Halloween issue. I love this time of year. Fall is my favorite season. It's the one (okay, one of two) that I missed out on growing up in South Florida, and this season just leaves me awe-struck. I never got to witness the glorious change of colors that Autumn brings as a child, never got to feel the brisk Fall air that came with the new season. In fact, while I took part in Halloween festivities along with (and in the same manner as) everyone else around me during my childhood, it was Halloween itself that ushered in Fall as I knew it, and that was just an inconsequential 'holiday' leading from one month to the next. I remember far too many trick-or-treating sessions in blazing heat, with that ridiculous store-bought costume clinging to me and dripping sweat all over the place because it was still well over 80 degrees at night. Halloween was the last 'blast' of Summer, the last activity that took place before we started gearing up for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Thing is, when we began our family, Pete and I just basically did everything our parents did. We 'did' Christmas, birthdays, Thanksgiving, and Easter just the way we'd grown up celebrating them, and Halloween was no different. We adorned Jon and Kelseyas little penguins, pirates, ballerina princesses, and ninjas and paraded around the neighborhood in search of bagfuls of candy. But the last year I remember going trick-or-treating with them (Kelsey was eight), something happened that changed my perspective forever.
We were walking with a group of smaller kids and their parents in my parents' neighborhood because we'd just returned from Germany and were in transit between duty stations. The fact that we weren't at "home" per se allowed us to see things a little more objectively because we really didn't know anyone and didn't have any personal biases to color the way we viewed anything--we just saw everything as it actually was. We passed a house that was decked out in full haunted-house style, complete with fake cobwebs on the eaves, terrifying music and sound effects blaring from the windows, and a "dead body" laid out on the porch. Two of the kids we were walking with expressed their fears to their dad about going up to that door, but he insisted that houses like that always had the best candy. What happened next turned my stomach. These little preschool and kindergarten children followed my eight- and ten-year-olds up the driveway, then paused while Jon and Kelsey approached the door. On cue, as Jon rang the doorbell, the "corpse" decorating their front porch sprang to life with a scream, and Kelsey and the two younger children scrambled for the safety of Mom and Dad's side. The "corpse" yelled out after them that, "Hey, kid, this is what Halloween is all about, getting the pants scared off of you!" The youngest, just four, was screaming in terror, sobbing uncontrollably for the rest of the walk home--Jon was the only one of the four children to continue ringing doorbells. Even Kelsey said "I've got enough candy, I don't feel like getting scared anymore". As we parted company with the other family, I overheard the four-year-old telling his Mom (who was home handing out candy) that he never EVER wanted to have another Halloween. The father laughed, told the little boy he'd outgrow it and was just acting like a baby.
I've never been able to get that mental picture out of my head. Is that what it's truly all about? If so, if Halloween is all about scaring the socks off of preschoolers all in the name of "fun", then honestly, I don't want any part of it. That Halloween, of October 2000, was our last. Neither Pete or I could bring ourselves to even consider 'celebrating' again. We dove deeply into study about the origins and meanings of Halloween in the years immediately following, were mortified when we stumbled across websites where "white witches" bragged about having a holiday that was readily adopted by "gullible, uneducated Christians" (don't ask me where I saw this, I don't remember...but I assure you it was most definitely REAL, as I'll never be able to rid my mind of that quote), and just spent way too much time totally confused by "Fall Festivals" and "trunk or treat" celebrations at different churches we've been a part of. I've read the debates, and I can see valid points on both sides of the argument. It's that very fact that has my brain in such a bind about this.
Is it truly possible for a Christian to honor God by taking part in Halloween? How? Does dressing up as Bible characters and handing out Gospel tracts really have an impact like we seem to think it does? When our churches host "Harvest Festivals", do we actually use those opportunities to honor God, or are we just re-creating the world's festivities without the witches and goblins? Why do we do that?
In all seriousness, this is one of those issues that I'm sure plagues the hearts and minds of many a Christian family. I know it confuses and bothers me. It's one of those things that I just can't reconcile in my heart, it's something that, in all good conscience, I can't even justify by calling it good, clean fun. I've seen the ugly side, and I've seen that ugliness turned on a preschooler whose innocent little heart was seared with fear. I've had to avoid certain stores (even Wal-Mart...and yes, I DID avoid it, thank you very much) because their just-inside-the-door-display scared my preschoolers to the point of shaking, shrieking, and hiding in Daddy's armpits. This is NOT my idea of good, clean fun. Pumpkin patch quests for just-right gourds, hayrides, costume parties...sure, I'd love to take part in the good and clean part of the fun, but how on earth is it even possible to take part in just PART of it without getting our hands and hearts dirtied by the ugly bits?