This post will offer no condemnation of witches or wizards. I’m an English major, so I’m not here to advocate banning books. 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 the Halloween holiday poses some interesting questions for Christians.
It’s worth pointing out that when I was a child, in the 1970s, this holiday was somewhat different.
For example, I don’t remember any of my friends wearing costumes bought for them at stores. 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.
And those of us with a social justice conscience must ask ourselves: 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 Africans suffering from one of the worst famines in decades, 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) costumes from stores, costumes that likely won’t be used next year.
Track your spending
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 ELCA World Hunger or choose something from the ELCA Good Gifts catalog.
We could make our decorations. Instead of buying strings of orange lights that come from China, we could buy pumpkins from the local congregation 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 meaning behind our costumes, if there is one.
If we want to take a theological turn, we could spend some time considering the ways in which 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?
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.
Good and evil
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?
Many of us still see battle lines drawn between good and evil, even if we have a more sophisticated understanding of those terms than did ancient pagans and ancient Christians. The world will still demand that we take sides. Which forces will we support? Some might see Halloween as a literal dress rehearsal, but even if we don’t, it’s a good occasion to reflect.
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).
As the shadows deepen and the Northern Hemisphere moves to a darker part of the year, we see people battling the gathering gloom by carving pumpkins and lighting candles.
The ghosts of the pagan customs that remain in the way we celebrate Halloween show a yearning to believe that death is not the final answer.
The good news contained in our Christian Gospels reassures us that death will not have the final word.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott is a lifelong Lutheran, a college teacher and department head. She has taught a variety of English and creative writing classes for the last 20 years.