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What Shall We Do with Halloween?

It has been four years since I last posted my suggestions for Christians to navigate Halloween successfully. I figure it may be time for a re-post.

1. Call it “Halloween.” This is what Christians first called the celebration they invented to replace/compete with pagan harvest festivals in northern Europe. It is short for “All Hallows Eve,” the night before the celebration of “All Saints (‘Hallows’) Day” (November 1). Pagans called their celebrations something like “Harvest Festival” or “First Day of Winter.” If your church is going to have a “safe Christian alternative” to other peoples’ October 31 celebrations, at least have the courage to reclaim the “Christian alternative” name that has been in use for the last thousand years.

2. Have fun. There is no reason not to have a party at this time of year. I don’t live in farm country where getting the harvest in before winter is a cause for celebration, but making it to the halfway point of the fall semester is a big enough reason to party for a lot of us. 🙂 We all need times when we can can let our hair down and even pretend to be someone or something we’re not.

3. Celebrate the saints. It is “Halloween,” after all. Liturgical churches celebrate the saints either on November 1 or on the first Sunday in November. We really are surrounded by a “cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12), and it is worth remembering their amazing stories. Take time to thank God for the heroes of the faith and their example. Maybe even dress up like Augustine or Julian of Norwich at one of those parties I just gave you permission to go to…

4. Remember the departed. November 2 is “All Souls Day,” the day on the liturgical calendar when Christians remember those who have died in the faith. In Latin America, it is el Día de los Muertos, the “Day of the Dead”–one of the roots of modern Halloween traditions. Visit the graves of departed loved ones, or otherwise remember them and thank God for them. Pastors: how about a brief memorial or tribute on Wednesday night, November 3, for all the church members and their loved ones who have died over the past year?

5. Reflect on your own mortality. This was a feature of the pre-Christian observance of Samhain that is certainly appropriate for Christians to embrace, especially American Christians who do such a marvelous job of denial of the fact that we will all some day die. You don’t need to be morbid about it, but perhaps this would be a good time to reflect upon passages like Isaiah 40:6-8 or Psalm 90:3-10. If you’re of a practical mind: Do you have a will? Is it up to date?

6. Make resolutions. Why let all that reflection on your mortality go to waste? Consider what you have learned over the past year. What would you like to do differently next year? Since the new Christian year is less than a month after Halloween (on the First Sunday of Advent, November 28, 2010), now would be a great time to begin pondering the changes you would like to see in your life.

7. Thank a farmer. The roots of the mid-autumn celebration of northern European peoples are in the agricultural seasons and the harvest in particular. Most of us today have very little concept of where our food actually comes from. Take some time this month to remember the farmers, fishers, ranchers, and others who make it possible for us to eat. Pastors in rural areas may want to consider a “farmer appreciation Sunday” (scheduled late enough in the season that farmers can actually attend it, of course!). In the process, thank God for sunshine, rain, and all of the other factors that are necessary to produce a harvest. Psalm 104 may be helpful here.

8. Wage spiritual warfare. There really are people for whom October 31 an important religious celebration. Some of them are satanist “wannabes” who are only in it for the shock value. The majority are earnest (and perfectly harmless) pagans, Wiccans, and others who worship deities connected with the agricultural cycles and with nature in general. Pray for people in both groups. There are also a few very, very dangerous cultic groups who look to October 31 as an occasion to commit violence. As you pray for these people, be sure to pray against the activities they have in mind to do.

9. Insist on balance. October 31 is not all about religious expression, even for pagans! People of every religious persuasion need to be thankful for a good harvest, have an occasional party, grieve the dead, reflect on those who have gone before, and remember their own mortality. As such, Halloween in all its forms can be interpreted as cultural celebrations as much as religious ones. With a measure of discernment, we ought to be able to take what fits our spiritual sensitivities and leave the rest behind.