why can’t we do halloween like our american friends?

Halloween is a couple of days away, and I’m trying to reconcile several different things in my head.

As a Christian, I’m not comfortable with celebrating things that represent evil. I’m not massively keen on being disturbed at home by strangers asking for sweets. I’d rather not try and pretend I’m out so that they won’t knock. Halloween invokes just a little bit of fear in me.

But this doesn’t seem to be how Halloween gets done in the States. Yesterday I read this blog post and it made me so excited for Melissa’s family, their costumes, and the sense of fun mounting in their household right now. I would love to be a member of her family over the next few days!

Like a game of Chinese Whispers, where a message gets distorted from source to destination, something about American Halloween got lost when it was transmitted over here a couple of decades ago. Here, Halloween is (mainly) about witches, wizards, ghouls, goblins, monsters and dark, scary things. In the States, it appears to be essentially a fancy dress festival – I won’t pretend that the dark stuff isn’t present at all, but it seems to be a minority of the overall celebrations. My American friends tell me that little girls dress up as princesses or fairies – not witches. I wonder whether part of it is also celebrating the changing of the seasons – pumpkin carving is not necessarily about creating the scariest face imaginable, but a way to celebrate the coming of Autumn/Fall.

I think this sort of Halloween is one I could subscribe to with authenticity. Don’t get me wrong – I applaud all efforts made by UK churches to offer Light Parties, or similar, on October 31st – and I’m grateful that by the time my kids are old enough to be aware of trick-or-treating, there will be a positive alternative. But it’d be good to have an actual celebration, rather than what feels like an anti-celebration.

Harvest Festival, once celebrated passionately across our country, seems to be diminishing as we become more detached from the source of our food. Perhaps instead, the church should ‘reclaim’ the scary, British Halloween, by taking some ideas from our American friends, and turn it into a kind of Autumn Festival – a chance to dress up, have fun, and thank God for the short days, long nights, cold weather, good food (pumpkins!), and the fact that, by God’s grace, the earth continues to revolve around the Sun. In an age where most Brits barely know their neighbours, perhaps the church should lead the way in being generous on Halloween night where, for once, social etiquette is smashed and strangers show up on our doorsteps.

Just some thoughts. How do you celebrate Halloween? What do you emphasise?

7 Replies to “why can’t we do halloween like our american friends?”

  1. It’s funny, I never think of it as a scary holiday! I know it is associated with witches and ghosts but like you said we are celebrating Fall and the opportunity to dress up, eat candy and have fun!! I too, wish you could hop on a flight and join our family! We’ve had so much fun this month and Wednesday should be a blast! Thank you so much for mentioning me in your post! It made my day!!

    1. You’re welcome! I’m really enjoying your Halloween posts and am totally with you in spirit from this side of the pond! Thanks for making me think about how I do (or don’t do) Halloween. This year, for the first time, I’m going to get prepared for trick or treaters – not because I like the scary costumes – but because I’m celebrating the rare joy of having neighbours I don’t know turn up at my house, and the chance to be hospitable and generous.

  2. I like giving things to children who come to the door, usually including a little early Christmas card, and I like admiring their creative outfits. I’m also glad that their mum is standing at the gate in the dark, so they aren’t all visiting houses of strangers without their mum!

    1. Mum, you’ve been great in leading the way being gracious, generous and hospitable to trick-or-treaters long before I was thinking along these lines. I have a lot more time for trick-or-treaters when they are of the small variety, accompanied by parents, than the groups of teens who can be a bit aggressive with it.

  3. There has been a resurgence of paganism in the UK over recent years but this isn’t touched by Hallowe’en. It coincides with the Wiccan festival of Samhain (pronounced sa-wain) but in fact it is the Church that created Hallowe’en as we know it. Visit any of the South American countries at this time and you will find far darker celebrations than the Harry Potter/Buffy style stuff that happens here. It’s a legacy of a time when Christians encouraged recognition of evil in the spirit world as part of their world view, part of the story of salvation in fact. But the mistake was to think that the battle of ideas had been won because of external signs such as baptism and church attendance. We are a lot wiser now and alive that Christianity is about discipleship, but we still have to learn how to live alongside and love those who are following other faith paths

    1. Thanks Dan, some helpful thoughts as I work through this issue. The mistake I made in my post was to criticise Halloween itself, when really what I meant was the way it is celebrated. Sorry for not making that clear. I’m aware of Halloween’s Christian roots (although was not aware of all the facts you filled in for me – thanks!), but that seems to me to be a long way from how it is celebrated now. There seems to have been a long gap of people not really ‘doing’ Halloween in England, and then came the over-commercialised Halloween as we now know it. Correct me if I’m wrong! Would love to know if there was much going on widespread during the intervening years. Anyway, perhaps modern-day Christians can reclaim some of the early Christian traditions at this time of year, and show the world that we have something worth celebrating, and are the hardest celebrators?! I’m planning to work on something for Halloween 2013…!

  4. Desert Dad writes: Thanks for this. Good to have an original take on Halloween.
    Here is one of my “Poodles” (poem-doodles):
    When Tom Dick and Harry at Halloween greet
    me with “Which will you have then, a trick or a treat?”
    “Let’s have both”, I reply to Tom Harry and Dick;
    “You give me a treat, and I’ll play you a trick!”

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