What do we do for Halloween?
I’ve been asked multiple times by people, “What do you do for Halloween?” and I tend to give the short answer, but I thought it might be nice to take the time to explain our family’s thought process behind our choices. Before I begin, I just want to remind you, this isn’t how I think Halloween “should” be done… it’s just what it looks like for us.
Before Kid was born
Growing up, I always went Trick or Treating. In America, Halloween is a large community event, and the costumes are pretty much whatever fancy dress you like: superheroes, brides, Transformers, candy bars (it is amazing). If you are ever intrigued, look up Family Halloween costumes on Pinterest. You will be amazed.
Families dressed up as whole casts of television shows, often with co-ordinated outfits. As a child, I remember not caring too much about the practicals of the costume wearing. I was in it for the sheer amount of candy. So, for several years I remember putting on my parent’s dirty old painting clothes, put additional dirt all over me, and heading out with my friends as family dressed as (I’m horrified to say – how inappropriate is this?!) a “hobo”. Yep, one of the classic 1920’s icons of homeless people who used to jump onto trains.
Although I must say a brief look on Pinterest reveals a surprisingly wide array of children dressed as a “Hobo” for Halloween, so I just want to say, I wasn’t the only highly insensitive monster.
I mean, wow. I retroactively apologise for my insensitivity to the very real plight of the homeless.
I was mainly focused on the huge bags of candy I was about to earn. The whole neighbourhood was full of people wandering around as families, houses lit up, and adults in every house greeting us with kind exclamations of welcome and admiration for our outfits. It was great.
But having lived in the UK for the past fifteen years, I am aware that how we do Halloween in this country is very different from the light-hearted community festival that it was where I grew up. It is much darker, and more focused on the scary, evil realm of fantasy.
And so, when our son was very small, we were faced with the dilemma that all Christian parents face: What do we do about Halloween?
The thought process
I had been a children’s minister for many years by the time we had a child. Our years of infertility had bought us valuable thinking time, and so we had been watching other families do it for years. I was aware that deciding about how to engage or not engage with Halloween is about a balancing act of personal values, and every family is different. Some people feel very strongly from scripture that they are not to engage at all with something that they perceive to be celebrating evil, while other people were more focused on the missional opportunities that it opened.
Every one of us are on a journey of figuring out how to be “in” the world, and not “of” the world, and that approach may change and adapt with every opportunity. For us, it was less a process of trying to figure out the right answer. And more what was the right answer for us in our journey as a family with God.
I never really like the idea of creating an “alternative” Halloween, primarily because I didn’t like the idea that the world gets to say what is normal. I didn’t want my child to grow up thinking that what happens in the world is the ideal, and as Christians we should opt out of it. For me, we are God’s children and we bring his wonderful heart of love and joy and kindness everywhere we go. I can walk into the deepest darkest places on earth, and bring the power and love of God into them just like Jesus did. So, I wasn’t against engaging with Halloween traditions as a whole, because how I would engage with traditions would be with the light, love, joy and kindness of Christ.
I also wasn’t really bothered by the history of Halloween. I think my personality tends to believe in how much more powerful God is than anything evil in the world, and embracing our roles to not be fearful ever, but to be clothed in love.
Initially, we thought… let’s engage with the cultural traditions (trick-or-treating, pumpkins, etc), but our way, as God’s people full of his love and light.
We started to get ready. We planned to dress up in goofy outfits and go trick-or-treating, and make people feel safe and joyful, and meet and chat with families we never met before and bring little bags of gifts to give people so as they gave us something, we could give them something in return. We had a great plan.
But, we quickly discovered that we lived in an area of flats where no one trick-or-treated. So that didn’t work.
On reflection, we found it interesting that what we chose to do for Halloween was so dependent on what the rest of our world was doing… we were still reliant on them to establish the “normal” for us to engage with. We weren’t happy with that, and so we thought, Let’s set up our own way of grabbing some of the cultural traditions and bring the us-ness to it… the us-ness of people who love God and love the beauty of God’s light in the darkness. No matter what people are doing.
So we decided that we would start our own family tradition.
What we do
We have a night in our house dedicated to the beauty of light in the dark. It starts off by setting up a den in our lounge. We have no reason for this besides the fact that it is fun. I then buy loads of glowsticks (like 50 of them) and we hang them all over the house because they will be our main light for the night. These dens have escalated over the years until it now looks like a Bedouin tent. My husband is a scout leader, and so it becomes a bit of a personal pride moment. See below.
We also dress up in fancy dress, because… it’s fun. We secretly plan them and then surprise each other with our outfits. One year Kid and I both came down as Knights, so when we needed to go for a quick run to the shop, we felt epically cool.
We did have to fight a few dragons in the freezer aisle as other kids were there dressed up as scary things, but our fake fighting skills were impressive and the other kid’s parents were sufficiently impressed.
After the den is built we carve pumpkins, because that is a really fun project. We don’t do scary faces, because 1) Joy is wayyyy more interesting than fear and 2) Scary faces are boring. There is so much more you can do with a pumpkin. My husband gets really into it.
Where my efforts are always much less impressive.
One year we didn’t buy pumpkins early enough and we were stuck carving peppers which was hilarious and much easier… until you wipe your eyes and then all hell breaks loose.
Some of my friends run a centre for justice and worship called the Sanctuary and they did an event where they fully embraced All Hallow’s Day, the traditional Christian day to celebrate the saints, where the name Hallow’ een (day before Hallows) comes from. They had people write down stories of the saints and other Christians that inspired them and put them up all over their centre. There were stores of men and women, ordinary and extraordinary.
It was wonderful, and I was so inspired by it, that part of our conversation over pumpkin carving is talking about the Christian people in our lives. We share about people we know, and those we have heard or read about that have inspired us over the past year and who we want to be like in the future. It’s so much fun to hear from Kid about who in church he looks up to, and share the latest video thingy that inspired Hubby as we carve.
We also tell stories of the beauty of God’s light in the darkness and share stories of dark times in our lives over the year and how God shone in the midst of it. Whether it’s stories of illness, or death, worry or fear, we hear over and over of how God broke through in his beauty and grace.
After the carving, we plonk in candles turn off all the lights so our entire house is lit only by glowsticks and pumpkins, huddle in our den, and watch a movie none of us have ever seen before… a fresh experience for all. (I was hoping for Descpicable Me 3 this year, but it won’t be out yet.) We eat pizza and popcorn with a bowl of fun-size candy plonked in the middle of the floor to graze on.
In between, people bang on our door and we cheer and run to the door, give out candy, wave at parents, chat a bit and tell people it is good to see them.
Then we all sleep in our den for fun.
As Kid has gotten older, it has been interesting to see that the “lure” of what the world does on Halloween isn’t tempting at all for him. The 31st is a highly anticipated family celebration that we all look forward to, and to be honest, isn’t optional. It’s a family tradition! When other kids invite him to a Halloween party, he easily says no and describes what we do for them.
We have had to frame for him what the world is doing and saying about Halloween. Every kid is different, so will need it explained in a different way. I have explained it dozens of different ways to children I work with, but for my particular child, he only needs something simple. We have framed it for his personality as this: “Some people think fear and scariness is fun. They like the power of being scary, and the feeling of being afraid. I think it’s because when you don’t know God, so many things in life are scary, it makes you feel like you have a bit more control over it if it’s happening on purpose. But God has so much better happiness and joy and freedom for us than that. He wants us to be able to live without fear at all, even in the darkest times. So we don’t celebrate fear and scariness… I don’t enjoy that at all… We just celebrate total freedom and joy! That’s why we do all the things we do.”
Occasionally we invite other kids and families to join in (some Christian, some not) and many times that has been very impacting for them, but most of the time we don’t.
For us, the night of Halloween isn’t a personal outreach event. For us, we just love taking a night as a family to play together, and celebrate that no matter how dark it is, it is just an opportunity to see the beauty of God even clearer. To remind ourselves of people who are walking and have walked their journey with God so well that it has inspired us to walk bolder and closer with Him. And it’s a moment to reflect about the times that have felt the darkest to us personally over the past year and delight in who He was in the midst of it.
But most of all, it’s just fun. We laugh, and play, and create and eat an enormous amount of food.
And that’s what we do for Halloween.