I wrote this past (“Fall Festivals and Scary Masks“) last year (2007) as part of a synchroblog leading up to Halloween. As we prepare for Halloween, and before you begin to condemn other Christians who take part in Trick-or-Treat. Perhaps we can offer brothers and sisters more grace, and even think seriously about what some churches do in response to Halloween.
When I was growing up, I loved Halloween. I would usually spend hours and hours (the day before) deciding what kind of costume I would wear. I always made my own costumes – primarily because the stores were sold out, but also because the store ones were so bad and expensive. One year, I was a pirate and learned that mascara does not make good beard stubble. I also created an astronaut costume once, using an entire roll of aluminum foil. Once I was a zombie and had to go through several sticks of my mother’s lipstick before I found the right shade of red for blood. (Now that I look back, it seems that my costumes probably cost my mother more than a store bought costume would.)
Trick-or-Treating was always a blast! Since we lived several miles outside of the city, there were no neighborhoods around us. We would drive to all of our relatives houses, then run through at least one of the nicer neighborhoods on the way home. After trick-or-treating, my brother and I would compare bags to see who had the most candy. He usually did, because I ate mine while we were walking and riding.
I also enjoyed Halloween Carnivals. I liked the games and the candy. I liked seeing friends’ costumes and throwing pies and sack races. We would always have peanuts and cotton candy and candy apples and popcorn. It was always fun at the end of the evening to see whose costumes didn’t make it through the fun and festivities.
One year, a few friends and I decided to “haunt” one of their front yards. We all dressed up in scary costumes and waited in the bushes until someone came to knock on the door. Then we would jump out and scare them. One of my friends stuffed straw in his shirt, put on a big mask and hat, and sat very still in a rocking chair beside the door. He looked like a scarecrow. When someone walked up to the door and knocked, he would jump up. I think there were only three heart attacks that night. The funny thing is that my “scarecrow” friend would always get whacked in the head with a bagful of candy.
A few years ago, I was told that it was wrong for Christians to participate in Halloween. I trusted the people who told me, so I went along. Instead of having Halloween Carnivals, we had Fall Festivals. Instead of scary costumes, the children dressed in “nice” costumes: super heroes or princesses or cowboys or astronauts (Hey, I was an astronaut once…) or pirates (Or maybe pirates are too scary?). We would give the children candy and peanuts and cotton candy and candy apples and popcorn. You may think that this sounds surprisingly similar to a Halloween Carnival, but I assure you that this was no Halloween Carnival, it was a Fall Festival. Plus, since we were Christians, we put tracts in the goody bags that we handed out for the kids to put their candy in, because they were not trick-or-treating.
When we were planning the Fall Festival, we made sure to tell the boys and girls that were part of the church that they could dress up, but they were not supposed to dress up in scary costumes. No ghosts or witches or monsters or zombies (uh oh) or teachers… well, nice teachers may be okay. We drilled this into their heads for several weeks preceding the Fall Festival. And, they complied. They arrived at the Fall Festivals dressed as cowboys and soldiers and princesses and ballerinas.
But, there was a problem. You see, we also advertised this Fall Festival around the neighborhood. This would not just be church fun, this would be an outreach! And a few neighborhood boys and girls actually came to the Fall Festival! A success, right? Well, kinda.
You see, some of these neighborhood boys and girls wore scary costumes. There were one or two monsters and a witch. *gasp* What should we do? Should we make them take off their costumes? Maybe we could let them in, but just give them the cold shoulder. Maybe they wouldn’t stay long. Surely they would recognize that they don’t fit in here.
Of course, we didn’t have to worry about that. As soon as our “good” boys and girls in their “nice” costumes saw the neighborhood boys and girls in their scary costumes, they pointed and said in loud voices (as children always talk), “Look, Mom! Look, Dad! They’re wearing scary costumes! That’s bad, isn’t it?”
Yes, this was actually said by some children. Yes, the neighborhood boys and girls heard. Yes, the “bad” children’s parents heard as well. They also saw that that they and their children were given the “evil eye” – which, unfortunately, was not part of a “scary” mask. They noticed that the “good” boys and girls were praised for their costumes, but not the “bad” boys and girls. And, yes, it was suggested by several “good” parents that we ask the “scary” and “bad” kids to leave.
We were very happy with outreach, as long as we reached people who looked like us, acted like us, believed like us, and wore Halloween – I mean, Fall Festival – costumes like us. These attitudes are necessary if we are creating an isolated group. However, if it is our desire to remain in the world and if it is our desire to impact the world, then these attitudes are dangerous and contrary to the attitude of Jesus.
Yes, I know that Halloween has pagan roots. Of course, Christmas and Easter also have pagan roots. Just as Christians in the past “Christianized” Christmas and Easter, many are attempting to “Christianze” Halloween by calling it “Fall Festival” or “Harvest Carnival” or something like that. Fine. I don’t have a problem with that. If someone decides that they do not want to dress up and go door-to-door asking for candy, I do not have a problem with that either. If someone decides that they are going to turn off their front door light and not give out candy, that is their choice.
Some Christians still take part in Halloween. This does not make them pagans, nor does it mean that they are being deceived, nor does it mean that they are too worldly. Other Christians prefer to take part in Fall Festivals. This does not make them more saintly, nor does it mean that they are closer to God, nor does it mean that they are more mature in Christ. We can recognize the differences, but we should not allow the differences to separate us. We have to look deeper than the “nice” or “scary” mask that a person wears.
However, when we start isolating ourselves from the world and other Christians, we are forgetting why we are here. When we start wagging our fingers at people – even Christians – who enjoy dressing up and having fun with their friends, we forget what it means to accept and love one another. When we condemn people for being different from us, we lose the chance to interact with them and get to know them and allow God to use us to disciple them – or use them to disciple us.
We can force people to wear “nice” costumes. Our concern should not be the mask that the person is wearing – whether it is “nice” or “scary”. The mask often hides what is underneath. So, instead of trying to change people and their behavior from the outside, let’s start by getting to know them as they are – accepting them as they are – and loving them as they are. Perhaps, then, we may find a “scary” person being changed into a Christ-like person… who may still look different than us.