Saturday, October 31, 2015

Trick or Treat? Halloween for Christians

This post will offer no condemnation of witches or wizards. I’ve had fun at costume parties, and I have more than one happy childhood memory of trick-or-treating around my neighborhood. Still, I know that this holiday poses some interesting questions for Christians.

 It’s worth pointing out that when I was a child, in the 1970’s, this holiday was different.  I don't remember being able to buy costumes at a store; we assembled them out of what was on hand, usually our parents' clothes and make up and whatever we could construct (or what our mothers might sew).   Now Halloween is the second largest holiday in terms of what we spend on it, second only to Christmas. Candy, costumes, decorations, pumpkins: when you total what you spend on this holiday, you might be shocked.

Those of us with a social justice conscience must ask ourselves if this is the best use of our money. Even if you celebrate simply, you’ll likely spend a bundle on candy to give out to trick-or-treaters. In a year when we’re seeing one of the worst humanitarian crises in a century, as Syrian refugees and others fleeing the Middle East wash up on Europe's shores, we must ask if it’s ethical to spend our money this way. And the planet cannot afford too many more years of excess, whether it be candy wrappers or plastic/polyester (petroleum based, after all) costumes from stores.

There are ways to soothe that social justice concern. We could keep track of our spending and in November, we could send a donation that matches or exceeds our Halloween costs to an agency that tries to alleviate suffering, like Lutheran World Relief or ELCA World Hunger. We could make our decorations: instead of buying strings of orange lights that come from China, we could buy pumpkins from the local church that uses the pumpkin patch to fund education programs, and we could support local farmers when we buy mums which last until the poinsettias make an appearance. For that matter, we could decide to make our costumes instead of paying top dollar for flimsy costumes from the store.

We could spend some time thinking about those costumes and the human desire to transform ourselves into someone else. If we want to inject some deeper thought into our holiday, we could ask ourselves about the deeper meaning behind our costumes, if there is one. If we want to take a theological turn, we could spend some time considering the way we’d like to be transformed, and the promises of transformation that our triune God has made to humanity and all of creation.

We could also think of Halloween themes and the yearnings of our human hearts. Why are we so in love with vampires right now? Do we long for eternal life? What differences in the eternal life scenario are offered by vampires and by Christ? Or what do zombies tell us about our culture?  (for more on vampires and zombies and the Church, see this post by David Williams) If we choose a superhero costume, what do we long for: flight, strength, invisibility, cool gadgets? Do we want transformation for ourselves or are we hoping for a savior? Again, we might think about the salvation narratives offered by superhero tales and that of our own Christian tradition.

Halloween also offers an interesting opportunity to think about the issues of good and evil. So many Halloween narratives essentially boil down to a good versus evil theme. How do these themes mesh with Christian narratives?

And it’s important to remember that Halloween emerged from its pagan roots as a natural bridge to All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2).  More on those holidays tomorrow.

So, as a Christian with a conscience, I'd wish us all a happy Halloween. May we discover what haunts us and be blessed with a waking dream of how to banish the ghouls that prevent us from the life that God would want us to have.

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