Friday, October 22, 2010

Celebrating Halloween: A Christian Take on a Non-Christian Holiday

Photo Copyright Elizabeth May, 2010

A few months back, my daughters (5 and 7 years old) and I were talking about holidays, including Halloween.

My seven-year-old floored me when she said, "What's the real meaning of Halloween?"

I quickly realized the real meaning of Halloween wasn't something I wanted to get into with a little girl who was thrown into a fear spiral two years ago from seeing pictures of too-scary Halloween decorations.

She went on.

"Doesn't it have something to do with God?"

I guess she really was listening when I told her and her sister to remember the true meaning of Christmas and Easter. But, now I was in a bind. How to explain Halloween. I muttered something unintelligible and changed the subject.

But, I thought then, as now--there must be a better way for Christians to explain Halloween to kids.

I started with some research on the origins of Halloween.

Here are some links, if you want to bone up (no pun intended!) on your Halloween history.

Christian Broadcast Network's site has an entire Halloween "resource" section. Here's a link to a general article on Halloween and Christianity. provides a comprehensive, secular overview of the holiday's roots here.

What I learned in my research is that Halloween, as we celebrate it today, has many influences--ranging from the ancient Druids to the Catholic Church. And, most of the traditions prior to the 20th- and 21st-century did involve the supernatural, with people believing that spirits (either bad or good) returned at this time to roam the earth. Today, Halloween has become the second largest commercial holiday, with Americans spending an estimated $6.9 billion annually ( A growing sector of the commercial side of Halloween is the gory and gruesome--a particular bane to those with young and/or sensitive children (like mine) who can literally get nightmares from just driving around their own neighborhood, seeing severed heads hanging from trees and all-too-realistic skeletons clawing up through the ground.

While I can't change the way the rest of the world celebrates Halloween--grotesque decor included--I can choose how to present the holiday to my kids.

So, here's what I've come up with:

You know how you asked me about the real meaning of Halloween? Well, Halloween is an old, old holiday. It started many years when people thought that the end of summer and beginning of longer, darker days in the fall meant that scary spirits would come out and play tricks on them. So, they'd dress up in costume, thinking the spirits wouldn't know who they were. Halloween has changed over the years to what it is now: getting dressed up, trick or treating for candy, carving Jack O' Lanterns, putting up decorations. 

But, remember how the really scary decorations bother us, and we don't like them? Well, that's a good reaction to have. I think some people get too interested in the darker, spookier side of Halloween, and that's not what we want to do. That's not what God would want us to do. Remember how you also asked if Halloween had to do with God? Well, in some ways, it does, because God is everywhere, and he is especially with us in dark or scary times. Halloween is a good time to remember that. 

I like to think of Halloween as a time to gather close with family, celebrate warm homes and glowing jack o lanterns, and eat good food like warm spiced apple cider, caramel apples, and homemade soup. We can remember that in these longer, darker days of fall and winter, God cozies up with us too.

Dear Lord: Please be with us all this Halloween season. Help us to remember that in the midst of what can be dark in the world, that You are light; You fight the bad in this world. Give those of us with children the wisdom to answer tough questions about Halloween and other holidays truthfully, but appropriately. Help us to find You at all times, and in all places, even in those unlikely spots.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

1 John 1:5

Friday, October 15, 2010

When The World Turns Upside Down

Photo Credit: Elizabeth May, Copyright 2010

October 2001. My world turned upside down. A miscarriage, a husband without a job and no good prospects in sight, and a mom with an illness no-one could seem to diagnose. Despite the riot of fall color surrounding me, the world seemed dark. 

As the days grew shorter, and the weather colder, I drew closer to God.

You've heard of fair-weather fans--I'm a foul-weather worshiper. I don't turn to God as often as I should, especially when things are going well, but when the going gets tough, He is my solace. I slow down and contemplate. I write in my journal. I read my Bible. I find specific comfort in verses that seem tailored to me and my situation.

Sickness, loss of a loved one, marriage problems, financial stresses--there are many heart-breaking situations we all face at some time in our lives, times that our world is turned on its end, and all we want is for some gentle giant to right it. Now.

I was impatient that fall, nine years ago. I wanted my husband to find a job. Now. I wanted my mom to get better. Now. I wanted to get pregnant. Now. And, I prayed for all those things, earnestly, daily.

God said, in time.

By Christmas, my husband had consulting work (which eventually turned into a full-time job). Around that time, too, my mother was able to come to Pittsburgh to see a new doctor who was able to diagnose and start treatment for her condition. And, finally, by July, I found out I was pregnant again.

Today, I'm stealing a bit of quiet time to write this, as my six-month-old naps upstairs and my girls are off at kindergarten and second grade. My concerns these days are typically what to make for dinner, or how I'm going to fit a work assignment into between school and activities and caring for my family.

I too often forget how lucky I am to have these "lite" concerns.

I too often forget the fall my world tipped over.

I too often forget to get on my knees and thank God for how lucky I am.

I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow. 
Jeremiah 31:13

Dear Lord: Thank you for being there for me, and for all those who seek you when times are tough. When we face worries and concerns and sorrows so huge they threaten to engulf us, you fold us into your arms. You listen to our cries; you feel our distress; you minister to our wounds. Please comfort those who are hurting now, help them to find you in their time of need. And, for those of us who aren't facing troubles today, help us  to praise you earnestly for all we have. Amen.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Getting off the Wheel

I was spinning the other day. And I don't mean that in the sense of the workout class.

I mean it in the sense of bouncing around aimlessly from task to task, feeling overwhelmed--like I was going 100 MPH, but getting nowhere fast.

I have to admit, this happens to me all too often. I start fixating on my to-do list. I start getting stressed. I start wondering how I'll fit everything I need to do (or want to do) in the day. And, I stop talking to God.

Just a quick email check, then I'll take time to pray.

Just one more load of laundry, and I'll sit down with my Bible.

Just a short phone call, and I'll write in my prayer journal.

I happen to have what some may think are unrealistic expectations for myself. I have a six-month-old infant and girls in kindergarten and second grade. I think I should be caring for them, completing my at-home freelance writing assignments, working out, keeping a tidy home, making home-cooked meals, decorating for fall, scrapbooking, learning how to use my DSLR camera, working on sewing projects...and the list goes on.

Yes, I'm a little nuts.

I look longingly at our local library's list of classes and groups, wistfully thinking I'd like to join The Go Green Club, The Writer's Group, and The Crochet Club (I don't even crochet--well, yet). I'm already in both a book club and an amateur photography class.

I know that my ratio of interests to time available is way out of whack. But, sometimes, I just can't help it, and I overextend myself.

That's where God comes in--when I let him.

He gently reigns me in. He grounds me. He reminds me that if I'm right with Him, nothing else matters. He helps me get off the manic hamster wheel of useless activity and gives me purpose.

 Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails.

Proverbs 19:21 

Dear Lord: Thank you for being there for me no matter how many times I carelessly toss aside our relationship in favor of the next thing on my never-ending to-do list. Please soften my stubborn heart and help me put aside those daily tasks to talk to you. Imbue me with a sense of your divine purpose, so I don't feel like I'm aimlessly spinning through my days. Amen.