Yesterday was Halloween and I am reflecting on whether, as Christians and local churches, we need to take a more positive response to what has today in the UK become largely a secular (and some would say unhealthy even Satanic) event? For me, this was highlighted recently by a local Pre-School, who rent premises in a local Church, widely advertising their intent to throw a Halloween Party (with ghosts, ghouls, and all the rest) much to the consternation of the Minister and many of his church members who knew nothing of this until it was advertised and who are very opposed to Halloween for the reasons stated above.
Halloween or Hallowe’en (a contraction of All Hallows’ Evening) and (according to that font of all knowledge, Wikipedia) ‘is a celebration observed in a number of countries on 31 October, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day … [that] time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed.’ The probability is that Halloween has its roots in the ancient pagan festival of Samhain (marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the ‘darker half’ of the year) and was eventually ‘Christianised’ as Halloween by the Church (like some other major Christian Festivals).
In some parts of the world, Christian observances of All Hallows’ Eve (including attending church services and lighting candles on the graves of the dead) remain popular but here in the UK, however, any Christian association with the Festival has virtually disappeared and Halloween (following the USA) is primarily a more commercial and secular celebration with young and old alike engaging in trick-or-treating, attending Halloween costume parties, carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns, lighting bonfires, apple bobbing, divination games, playing pranks, visiting haunted attractions, telling scary stories, and watching horror films.
For the majority of Evangelical Christians here in the UK (although not in the USA seemingly) the way Halloween has developed and is observed today is seen as unhelpful, unhealthy, and even Satanic. Most UK Churches of evangelical persuasion openly condemn Halloween and discourage members of their church and congregation from taking any part in the secular activities associated with Halloween. Many churches, or groups of churches, put on Light Parties (or the equivalent), to both rival and provide an alternative to Halloween Parties for children, although I am intrigued to see that in many cases such parties usually start about 4.00 p.m. and end around 6.00 p.m. presumably so that the children have time to go back home, put on their Halloween costumes and then go out trick-or-treating?!
Being convinced myself of the need for individual Christians and local churches to drastically change ‘the way we do church’ and become ‘missional congregations’ (rather than self-preservation societies) I have found myself reflecting on whether, as Christians and local churches, we need to take a more positive response to Halloween rather than the negative, condemnatory approach that most evangelicals in the UK seem currently to embrace. Thankfully I am clearly not the only evangelical Christian thinking this way.
For example, one of our Christian friends set up a gazebo and stall outside her house manned by Patch the Pumpkin and his team of helpers, giving away hot chocolate, marshmallows, free goody bags, and the like, to all the ‘trick-or-treaters’ passing by. Lots of people stopped by and lots of good conversations ensued as a result.
In addition, this year a number of churches in Woking and the surrounding area staged Light Beacons in their communities on October 31st. They set up gazebos, lit them up in a number of imaginative ways (other than literally setting fire to them, of course) and whilst each of the beacons was different, they did some or all of the following: gave out tasty treats, glow sticks and leaflets; held children’s activities; and offered a listening ear/prayer to anyone who wanted to talk or share a matter of concern.
The emphasis in both cases was about redeeming Halloween – a day the Lord has made – by spreading light in the darkness; going out to give not to get; sowing love in place of fear. People are drawn to the beacons and recognise them as safe places. It was a great opportunity to connect with their communities. Halloween is getting bigger (it is already the third largest retail event in the year). Our Christian friend (and Patch the Pumpkin) already are planning to repeat their venture again next year, and the organisers of the Woking events would love to see all of Woking and the surrounding villages lit up in 2018.
For me, it all depends on how we see our role as Christians and churches in a post-Christian society? Do we see our role as ‘putting people right’ by ‘exercising a ministry of condemnation’ (as one preacher styled his own ministry to me once) or by sharing a message of ‘good news of great joy for all people’ (Luke 2:10)? What do we offer this needy, broken, hurting generation – Trick or Treat?