Putting the hallow back in Halloween

Halloween is the second largest commercial holiday in America. We spend $6.9 billion. What is it about Halloween that draws us in? We're called to be light, even on culture's darkest days. How do we live October 31? How do we prepare for it? How do we respond to our culture’s celebration, whether we boycott it or participate redemptively or mindlessly in it?

How often we separate sacred and secular: Halloween has become a secular celebration that we many Christians either boycott or cautiously or emphemistically participate in. How can we more effectively join our sacred and secular lives in such events as Halloween?

Our Ugandan friends are curious about other cultures such as ours, as we were curious and learning their culture. We found it difficult, however, to explain Halloween to our Ugandan friends. In fact, we were awakened to the fact that any holiday that glorifies gore and darkness is suspect at best and can lead to sin at worst.

Yet there we were, ironically, "celebrating" a holiday in Uganda, where we were trying to move Ugandans out of superstitions and belief that evil controls them, that evil spirits reign above the earth, that God is not in control; we were trying to preach Christ as more powerful than the evil one or evil spirits that most Ugandans very much believe in (Jn 4:4). We would talk about fetishes and charms they wore on their arms, under their clothes, put in their houses. We’d warn against curses they’d put on others to hex them and win power over them. We’d frown and condemn the spirit mediums who would dress up in cowry shells with a shepherds crook, get drunk, wear a leopard skin, dance around, smoke a pipe, and divine the nature of sickness or death in a village, trying to determine what was the cause, animal sacrifice, even human sacrifice . . .

And we were Americans come to “show them the way” and we were glorifying a holiday where we dress up as spirits and gools . . . or maybe fools. We weren't parading in the streets, mind you, but our neighbors saw some of our festivities.

Were we wrong? Did we send a wrong signal? One tailor named Charles Oneka even sewed costumes for our children. Our close friends understood . . . but perhaps others didn’t.

But I tell you that story because when we got out of our culture, we learned something about ourselves that we otherwise might not have learned.

Like many other Christians recently, we've helped our children avoid dressing up as blantantly evil characters. Events have been changed from Halloween to "Fall Festivals," and trick or treating has become "trunk or treats" at churches.

For example, churches like ours do Fall Festivals, Pumpkin Patches, or dramas about the Fires of Hell.

What is the biblical principle that guides us here? Should we join culture, celebrate with, revise events with Christian emphasis? Shouldn’t it concern us that we celebrate rightly as Christians? Do we celebrate outside of our Christian faith? Should there be secular and sacred separations in our lives?

Do we keep the porch light on the very one night of the year when our neighbors come to meet us, when we might meet our neighbors or do we turn the porch light off in protest and sashay to our "holy" events?

Our family chooses to leave the light on and be in the neighborhood on Halloween night. We celebrate with our culture and intentionally meet our neighbors as we trick or treat or receive trick or treaters. I will usually come home and write down the names of neighbors we've met.

The night is holy to us as a way to be good neighbors.