It’s time to get spooked y’all. Hugh ‘Hannibal’ Collins believes Christians can, and should, embrace Halloween—but not for the reasons you might think.
It was a dark and eerie night. The street lights flickered ominously. Silent shadows played on the walls. When suddenly … well, actually, nothing suddenly happened because—like many Christians—my family never celebrated Halloween.
I never had any serious ‘FOMO’ about not getting to experience the buzz of asking strangers for lollies—even when church ‘light parties’ didn’t have quite the same appeal. My whānau wasn’t unusual—many Kiwi Christian families still consciously avoid Halloween due to its dark themes and origins.
But it’s not only Christians who’ve railed against Halloween in New Zealand. Stuff writer Laura Baker says it’s time we send Halloween ‘back to where it belongs’—and not because she’s against throwing a party in the name of evil. ‘No, I’m the Grinch of Halloween because it is a repugnant excuse of a holiday, dripping in slimy American commercialisation. It teaches young children to take sweets from strangers and encourages women to dress in overtly sexualised costumes,’ she rants.
There’s no doubt major retailers are partly responsible for the growth of Halloween in New Zealand—the likes of the Warehouse and Kmart have been especially good at promoting jack-o-lanterns and fake cobwebs over recent years.
But Halloween isn’t leaving our shores anytime soon. When we accept it’s here to stay, Halloween can actually become something Christians embrace. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve appropriated a celebration which wasn’t originally our own.
Under the Full Moon ...
Humans had seasonal celebrations long before the arrival of Christ. Many pagan (or pre-Christian) celebrations were based around the positioning of the sun—events connected with various agricultural seasons.
In fact, our central celebrations of Christmas and Easter both have pre-Christian roots: Christmas is derived from celebrations related to the winter solstice (the shortest day of the year); Easter came from pagan celebrations around the first full moon that occurs after the March equinox (when the equator passes through the centre of the sun).
This is why we celebrate Christmas in December, despite the fact historians agree Christ was likely born sometime in September. Not to mention that the word Easter is derived from Eastra, a Germanic goddess who loved rabbits. With this knowledge in mind, there’s no reason Christians can’t begin to adopt our own form of Halloween.
Spooking for Jesus
Traditionally, New Zealand churches have either spoken against Halloween or embraced an alternative, most commonly in the form of a ‘light party’. But Territorial Youth Secretary Mat ‘the Mongrel’ Badger believes there’s a third approach—something he developed while an officer at Howick’s East City Corps.
For four Halloweens, Mat was the brains behind unique installations that intertwined ghosts and zombies with the good news of our Christian faith. In an interactive ‘Spookers’ style experience, young people went through a dark tunnel, where volunteers in horror-themed costumes jumped out and scared them. East City Corps even got the makeup and art department at Howick College to come to the party.
The first year, in 2014, featured an 80 metre long installation which took youth through a series of choices relating to the ‘narrow’ path of Christ or the ‘wide’ path of death. A hangout zone at the end provided food, drink and people who were good with hospitality. Mat would then share a brief devotion on the wider message of the event. In the first year, nine people made first-time decisions for Christ!
‘This whole idea of having an experience that is kind of a little bit spooky, but with a message is actually really powerful,’ Mat says.
‘The aim of all of these was to provide a platform to present the gospel in its fullness. We’re not scaring people into heaven. But it’s easier to talk about the fact that the Bible does say that there are two roads in life.
‘The simple fact is that we serve a God who loves us and we know that we can be at peace if we’re in him.’
While the installation took a bit of creativity and labour, the concept was something both the corps community and neighbours could get behind.
‘The only stress we got was never from the neighbours or the community. It was from a couple of other church leaders who thought that we were endorsing Halloween through what we’re doing.
‘Whereas my take was, “No we’re not endorsing Halloween; we’re using it as a platform because it’s in the calendar”.’
Trick or Treat?
Many families, Christian and secular, will avoid trick or treating for a range reasons. But Christianity Today writer, Ed Stetzer, says Christians not only can, but should, put on their costumes, pass out lollies, and greet guests at their door. This is about building community as it’s the only time many people will connect with their neighbours.
‘This night is a once-a-year opportunity to do something so simple, yet so critical: get to know your neighbours,’ he writes.
‘God is at work in our individual lives, but also in our communities. If Halloween is an opportunity to engage in this work and learn to love our neighbours better, I believe we should take it—costumes, candy, and all!’
Like Christmas and Easter, Halloween can be a time of connection and coming together. And of course this doesn’t mean we’re affirming ancient pagan deities. Afterall, we celebrate Easter every year and never question if we’re worshipping an old Germanic goddess!
Halloween is another opportunity to join with our community in spreading hope and hospitality. And, finally, who doesn’t enjoy a bag of delicious lollies!