It’s that time of year again, and many of my Christian friends are grumbling. There are plenty of reasons for Christian’s to be uncomfortable about Halloween – although I’m not sure that most of us can explain why. I hear vague references to people opening themselves to the influence of evil. There is something about darkness which needs to be opposed. Trivialised meddling in some kind of dark arts.  Something about opening ourselves to dangerous forces which are more powerful than we expect. If true, these are genuine reasons to be concerned for our children. But is that really the case?

To most people, Halloween has little religious significance. In the UK, the Christian festival of All Hallows Eve is not really understood or widely celebrated. Some people point to a direct link to the ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain, although in reality, the common understanding of that festival owes more to nineteenth century romanticism and fantasy than it does to genuine historical sources. Halloween, as it is developing today, owes much more to American commercialisation than it does to British or Celtic tradition. 

There are plenty of reasons for all normal people (Christians included) to be uncomfortable about some aspects of Halloween as it is increasingly practised. Manifestations of gruesome injuries can easily trivialise and mock genuine human suffering. Grotesque images of disability and deformity put forward as a source of fun are inexcusable. Using the season as an excuse for bad behaviour in our streets and doorsteps. Deliberate use of ‘Pennywise’ masks or any other articles to deliberately frighten people of any age. These things are unacceptable and need to be called out for what they are. At minimum, they are anti-social behaviour. They should not be condoned. They are unpleasant. They can be frightening. In some cases they border on criminal.  Halloween or not, no right minded person in our community should or would welcome the kind of behaviour which is selfish, and deliberately frightening, unpleasant and antisocial.

However, small children in fancy dress, enjoying the moment, interacting with neighbours and friends. Houses with gnarled and warty squashes or carved pumpkins on the doorstep or windowsill. People adorning their houses with ‘Do Not Enter’ tape or shabby representations of spiders webs. Young people and adults enjoying fancy dress parties. I abhor the wasteful use of single use plastics, but otherwise these things don’t seem to me to be inherently evil.

I’m not here to promote Halloween. I’d probably feel happier if it wasn’t a thing – but it is.  Love it or hate it, Halloween has become part of our culture and I wonder whether, whilst not necessarily joining in, we should somehow engage with it. Of course Churches who promote ‘light parties’ or other ‘alternatives’ to Halloween will argue that they are doing just that, but there can easily be a sense of being judgmental. Distancing ourselves from our neighbours who are just looking for a bit of fun. It can feel like papering over a crack or whitewashing a dodgy bit of wall.  I’m not convinced that we do ourselves any favours by trying to push back against a growing cultural phenomenon which is not going away any time soon, and is not particularly anti-religious or evil. I want us to engage in a much more positive way – looking for opportunity to get alongside our neighbours rather than berating them for reasons they don’t understand.

At the end of the day, I wonder whether a season which encourages people to engage with the concept of their own mortality might actually be fertile ground for the evangelical. Rather than simply bashing the season with well-intentioned but somewhat insubstantial arguments, perhaps we should be ready to meet it head on. Maybe we should be ready to talk about it. Maybe we should be looking for ways to encourage people to think it through. Life. Death. The supernatural. Maybe we should be ready to walk with them and encourage them to think about the big issues which are brought centre stage by Halloween.

Just a thought.  

Richard Jackson is the Director of LifePicture UK. He is exploring life as a contemplative evangelical.

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