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.
History.com 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 (history.com). 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