Saturday, November 13, 2010

Halloween and the Culture Wars

In recent years, Halloween has become one of the many battlegrounds in the culture wars. But for some reason, it seems to get less attention in the media than school prayer, public displays of Christmas decorations, and sexualized entertainment.

In our own family’s current social circle, there seems to be a real split of opinion on Halloween. Some families we know absolutely love Halloween, and the whole family gets in on the fun in a wholesome way. One family we know decorates their home elaborately for an annual party for parents and kids alike. Everyone dresses up. Another family we know has an adults only Halloween party. Costumes are mandatory, and the kids are left with sitters. The latter family are friends of ours from our church. They are strong Christians. The former family does not attend church regularly, but they do have pretty mainstream religious beliefs. Both families have wonderful values. One has adopted several special needs children and are foster parents to others. The other family volunteers extensively at our church. They are both great families, and we’re privileged to have such great friends.

Also in our social circle are families who feel very strongly that Halloween is ungodly. Because of the pagan roots of Halloween, and the themes these families perceive to be inspired by Satanism, such families have drawn a line in the sand and refuse to have any involvement with Halloween. We know plenty of conservative Christian families who don’t even utter the H-word aloud in the presence of their kids, and would never even consider dressing up or handing out candy. Although our family takes a different approach, I can definitely understand the views of families that embrace the anti-Halloween perspective.

It is also interesting that different Christian churches have a different take on their approach to Halloween. At our church, when Halloween fell on a Saturday last year, kids attending the Saturday night service were invited by the pastor and the director of religious education to wear their Halloween costumes so they could easily go from Bible class to trick-or-treating that evening. That night there were little ninjas, mermaids, and witches walking the corridors of our church campus and receiving communion with the rest of the congregation. My kids’ teacher was a great sport and also dressed in costume that night, much to the delight of her students. She was teaching the kids about All Saints Day (which is the day after Halloween), and came dressed as Saint Martha (a saint with which many modern moms can identify!).

But not all Christian churches are ok with the modern celebration of Halloween. Last year we knew a Catholic family whose parish was having a festival of saints; it took place on October 31st to coincide with (and offer an alternative to) Halloween. But the festival was technically to celebrate All Saints Day. The kids were supposed to come dressed as their favorite saint. Ninjas, mermaids and witches were not welcome. I appreciate the sentiment, but I also realize that frankly many little kids would rather pretend to be a super hero or a princess instead of noble real-life folks like St. Francis or St. Katharine Drexel.

Some other Christian churches take an even more hard-line approach. They refuse to celebrate Halloween in any way. One large non-denominational church in our area had a big fall party during the typical trick-or-treating time in the evening on the 31st to give families a non-Halloween alternative. It was open to the public and free. No costumes, but I understand they had fun activities and candy for the kids.

Significantly, it is not just the conservative Christians we know who are so turned off by the modern observance of Halloween. A very progressive, intellectual friend of mine, who is also a Christian, recently mentioned to me in passing that her family just doesn’t do Halloween. They disapprove of the occult themes of the festivities, so they just don’t participate. I shared with her that I could definitely understand that approach.

Another lovely friend of mine, who does not embrace a religious perspective, shared with me that she too gets a little weirded out by Halloween these days. She told me about a former co-worker who was an intelligent, sensitive person most of the year, but who got a little too into Halloween. She and her husband would have an over-the-top party with lots of scary effects. And they even let their toddler watch gory films like Friday the Thirteenth. My friend and I were horrified at the thought of anyone watching slasher films like that, but we were particularly concerned by the potential impact it would have on someone so young to become desensitized to violence and human pain so early in her development. What happens to kids like that who grown up throughout childhood being exposed to extreme violence against fellow human beings as a form of entertainment? Why is that entertainment to anyone?

Unfortunately, in the current cultural climate, even just asking such questions can provoke a pretty hostile response in some quarters. The questioner is attacked as an overly serious stick in the mud who needs to loosen up. Similarly, when parents and other adults question the sexualized nature of media offerings, children’s fashions and toys, they are attacked as up-tight prudes threatening sacred First Amendment rights.

Matthew 14:13

When Jesus got the news, he slipped away by boat to an out-of-the-way place by himself. But unsuccessfully—someone saw him and the word got around. Soon a lot of people from the nearby villages walked around the lake to where he was. When he saw them coming, he was overcome with pity and healed their sick.


  1. One thing I must say about these over-Christianized zealots is that in this country we have First Amendment rights, which mean they do too, and voicing an opinion is certainly their right. And maybe the questioner is "attacked", but then, the very question is a backhanded criticism of another's tastes and/or ideas. You, dear blogger, do not have to like horror movies, or even Halloween celebrations, but disapproving of someone else's enjoyment of these things, is highly colonialist *chuckle*I think of 19th century explorers trying to convert the Pagans*chuckle. I suppose war is ok, though, right? what about small kids who witness their homes and families blown apart by bombs and guns? Hm?? Or kids who grow up in gang neighborhoods who adopt the lifestyle from early on 'cause its basically the easiest way they know how to survive? And you worry about a few cheap horror movies. At least that isn't real. To sum it up succinctly, GET A LIFE!!!!

  2. Hey, you want to protect children?
    Here's something you can really rant about...