Trick or….Bible: Christians Coping with Halloween

What are Christians supposed to do with Halloween: a day which has become a cavalcade of non-Christian symbolism: ghosts, witches, black cats, and evil spells?

For many, the long-standing answer was to close the curtains, turn off the porch light and stay home.

But some Evangelicals have been looking for a different approach.

For example, there’s “Jesus Ween,” an attempt by a Canadian pastor to offer a “Christian alternative” to Halloween. The idea is simple: instead of wearing a costume, wear white (the color of righteousness); when someone greets you with “Trick or treat,” respond with “Jesus Loves You”; and if you want to drop candy in the bag, feel free, but drop a small Bible in that bag while you’re at it.

Ultimately, the pastor seems to be quietly working for a re-brand of the day, from Halloween to “World Evangelism Day,” recognizing the potential in a day when going door to door and speaking to strangers is not only permitted, but expected.

According to the website: “There is no better day to choose. October 31st presents us with a unique opportunity to spread the gospel….You don’t even have to go out of your way; people will come to your doorstep, anyway.”

The whole thing has “Ned Flanders” written all over it.

Maybe that’s why it seems to be having trouble catching on, even among Christians with a hexed—I mean, vexed—relationship to Halloween.

The movement began in 2002, and the organization’s website, www.jesusween.com, doesn’t appear to have been updated since 2012.

But it’s still worth talking about, and not because it fits with the famililar “Ain’t those Evanglicals kooky?” meme.

More recently, actor Kirk Cameron urged Evangelical families to approach Halloween, not quite as “Jesus Ween,” but along similar lines:

You should have the biggest party on your block, and you should have the reason for everyone to come to your house and before anyone else’s house because yours is the most fun…Halloween gives you a great opportunity to show how Christians celebrate the day that death was defeated, and you can give them Gospel tracts and tell the story of how every ghost, goblin, witch and demon was trounced the day Jesus rose from the grave….

For Cameron, the festivities all have their origin in popular celebration of Jesus’ resurrection and atonement, and it’s high time that Christians reclaimed that connection.

What’s more likely is that Halloween began as a Christian appropriation of the Celtic pagan holiday of Samhain, which marked the end of the harvest season, and asked for the protection of the spirit world in order to survive the coming winter.

The Church began shifting its liturgical calendars as early as the 9th century in order to get its arms around the day, and to re-present it as the triple holiday of All Hallows Eve, followed by the Feast of All Saints, and then the Feast of All Souls.

So it’s neither a new anxiety, nor a new response, for Christian communities to eye the season warily and to try to shoo everyone back into their seats.

This shouldn’t be much of a surprise. After all, “lightening up” has really never been the Church’s thing.

Not for nothing, many would say that it’s a perennial challenge for Christians to reconcile the claims (and cultural narratives) of faith and those of their surrounding communities in any age.

In that sense, when Kirk Cameron or the Jesus Ween proponents offer constructive proposals for what to make of the holiday, they’re only the latest examples of a venerable Christian tradition.

Indeed, so much of the work of faith is the process of trying to do just that.

In this case, what is it about evil and death, and perhaps the temptation to mayhem, that the Church’s story can’t quite manage to contain? And what should faithful people do about it?

The broader cultural narrative of modern Halloween continues to engage this question.

So many communities have tried to de-fang Halloween by trick-or-treating only in daylight, or in explicitly self-contained environments like shopping malls or blocked off streets with an army of adult supervision, lest any genuine evil intrude.

It’s an odd thing to try to control a holiday that emphasizes our lack of control, and to keep evil pleasantly fictional by insulating ourselves from the fact that it is not.

As a father, I’m all for it.

But as a pastor, I’m not sure that a well-intentioned reminder of the love of Jesus and the power of his Word, dropped in my toddler’s goody bag, would entirely allay my fears.

The Word I need is the grace to live with the tension.

45 Comments

  • asmorrell@gmail.com' Andre M says:

    I do remember having a pretty fun time at the “alternative nights” at our church when I was little.

    As an adult, though, I enjoy Hallowe’en for its campiness more than anything else–and that’s not something an alternative night has ever brought me!

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Maybe you just like the party atmosphere outside of the church environment.

  • ckw64@yahoo.com' cken says:

    Get over yourself. Nobody thinks, well almost nobody but people like you think of Halloween as being non-christian. It is a night people dress up in costumes and have some fun. That’s it period.

  • asmorrell@gmail.com' Andre M says:

    “That’s it period.”

    Makes me think… maybe I’ll watch “Carrie” tonight.

  • jennifer.prestash@mail.com' Jennifer Prestash says:

    Maybe they should follow the example earlier Christians and have their kids dress up as saints?

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    a cavalcade of non-Christian symbolism: ghosts, witches, black cats, and evil spells?

    I am not sure about black cats, but aren’t those other symbols Christian?

  • leigh.isme@yahoo.com' Leigh says:

    Jeez Louise. Christians have every other day of the year to proselytize and a couple national holidays all to themselves, can’t there be ONE day where people can be free of religion and proselytizing, especially kids? They’re having fun trick or treating, dressing up in costume. Leave them alone. And Halloween is NOT a “satanic” holiday. It’s based on an ancient Celtic holiday, and has nothing at all to do with satan.

  • pakelag@dteenergy.com' pakelag says:

    Having grown up in a fundamentalist, Baptist household in the 1960s , where Hollywood was viewed with great skepticism, there was never any thought other than to enjoy Halloween for what it was and is: an opportunity for kids to enjoy themselves. When you do something unprincipled or wrong, there are usually negative repercussions down the line. I can’t identify anything along those lines for having “celebrated” Halloween.

  • ckw64@yahoo.com' cken says:

    Movies aren’t reality

  • asmorrell@gmail.com' Andre M says:

    Really?

  • frjesusgaylord@yahoo.com' FrJesusGaylord says:

    Is there anything evangelicals can’t ruin?

  • frjesusgaylord@yahoo.com' FrJesusGaylord says:

    There is no difference between an evil spell and imprecatory prayer.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    I have given it a lot of thought, and the only things I can come up with are the Hindenburg, the Titanic, and Virgin Galactic Space Ship Two. Those were already ruined by something else, so they might not be good examples.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    I have given it a lot of thought, and the only things I can come up with are the Hindenburg, the Titanic, and Virgin Galactic Space Ship Two. Those were already ruined by something else, so they might not be good examples.

  • truktyre@hotmail.com' Craptacular says:

    Why do christians seem to feel threatened when anything non-christian might be celebrated? Why do christians feel the need to slap a public coat of jesus paint on every festival and holiday? I don’t remember any stories of jesus or his disciples attempting to coopt the then-celebrated public festivals/holidays, but I might be mistaken.

    Currently christians are free to celebrate all their holidays however they want privately, the problem begins when they expect everyone else to honor/revere that coat of jesus paint as they do. Will the people handing out bibles on Halloween be upset when they find them strewn about the streets or in trash cans? Will christians be upset that few show up to their “biggest party on the block” because others don’t want to celebrate “jesusween,” they just want candy, treats, and fun?

    Look at Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, which christians now demand that we non-christians honor as the holidays of the birth and resurrection of their god (christmas and easter, respectively). In fact, if the rest of us don’t honor their god at those times of year, they claim we are creating a “war on christmas” or whatever holiday they want us to celebrate in the same way they do. (Or, as FrAnK666 would put it, they want to “reclaim their civil right” to force us to celebrate holidays in they way they prescribe.)

  • robert.m.jeffers@lonestar.edu' Rmj says:

    The dates of Samhain and All Saint’s are a coincidence, not the church wrapping its arms around paganism the better to appropriate it. Most of that line of thinking is 19th century RC bashing, frankly, derived from 17th century Protestants.

    All Saint’s was set on November 1 because it happened to the be day Pope Gregory dedicated a chapel to the saints at St. Peter’s. He was in Rome, Samhain (probably long gone by the 9th century) was in Ireland. The Irish church, by the way, was celebrating an all saint’s observance in April, nowhere near Samhain.

    The dead walking the earth, which became witches and ghouls and ghosts, etc., is probably connected to Samhain. But the church never embraced that, because the church has never embraced Hallowe’en, even though the holiday gets its name from the church date on November 1 (All Hallow’s Even).

    Mostly, it has nothing to do with Christianity, and the arguments over it have a lot to do with Protestants still upset the Catholics have saints. Seriously. The anti-Papist strain of American culture still runs deep underground, and shows up a lot among very conservative Christians, i.e., evangelicals and fundamentalists. Their arguments against Hallowe’en are rooted in the same arguments made by the Puritans against Christmas celebrations in this country, made in the 19th century.

    You could look it up…..

  • LisaBarker.com@gmail.com' Independently Yours says:

    Thank you!

  • joerogers67@gmail.com' joeyj1220 says:

    it’s funny that some Christians get their knickers in a knot over the pagan elements/roots of Halloween but don’t feel the same way about Christmas which also has many pagan images/traditions associated with it

  • golkarian1@outlook.com' Golkarian says:

    “The Word I need is the grace to live with the tension.” This leads me to think the author doesn’t deserve this comment, but the Christians he’s talking about do.

  • ellen.valle@utu.fi' red-diaper-baby 1942 says:

    Briefly, no.

  • ellen.valle@utu.fi' red-diaper-baby 1942 says:

    Joey, I think the problem is that Christians (as well as fundamentalists of other religions) ENJOY getting their knickers in a knot, and can’t be happy until they’ve gotten everyone else to go along with them and ruined everyone’s fun. They hate the idea that someone, somewhere might be having fun or enjoying themselves!

  • ellen.valle@utu.fi' red-diaper-baby 1942 says:

    and the 17th!

  • frjesusgaylord@yahoo.com' FrJesusGaylord says:

    But how do we KNOW evangelicals weren’t behind each of those disasters?

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    benefit of the doubt?

  • tojby_2000@yahoo.com' apotropoxy says:

    “What are Christians supposed to do with Halloween: a day which has become a cavalcade of non-Christian symbolism: ghosts, witches, black cats, and evil spells?”
    __________________

    uh… that little list is as Christian as is Easter. The Jesus religion reveres/fears a father god, a son god, a ghost god and evil god and, among Catholics, a mother goddess. Those “scary” icons belong in a subset under the evil god.

  • tojby_2000@yahoo.com' apotropoxy says:

    Christians assumed black cats were familiars for witches.

  • fiona64@livejournal.com' fiona64 says:

    So, the other 364 days of the year aren’t enough for the Fundy-gelical lot; they want to co-opt Celtic New Year as well. Feh.

  • fiona64@livejournal.com' fiona64 says:

    Yep. Evergreens, Yule log, all of that stuff? Celtic pagan. To say nothing of the fact that it totally co-opted the Feast of Mithras, which took place 25 Dec.

  • morgan_313@yahoo.com' Morgan says:

    EXACTLY! I’m a Pagan and feel very offended when people trash the holiest day we celebrate. And like you say, the majority of people enjoy the day in a secular manner and it’s probably a child’s next favorite holiday after Christmas. This Christian proselytizing makes it even worse.

  • morgan_313@yahoo.com' Morgan says:

    As a Witch, I can assure you the term has NOTHING to do with Christianity.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Christianity needs something to burn. Christianity can’t be what they are without something to be against.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    If it is any consolation we try to trash their holy day. Our war on Christmas.

  • morgan_313@yahoo.com' Morgan says:

    Oh, you mean the FICTIONAL War on Christmas? The one that convinced all retailers to ignore Christmas and do away with Black Friday and Christmas music in EVERY store??? THAT “War on Christmas??” Horse puckey!

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    I was thinking of a new war on Christmas. It is actually more of a war on Christianity, so Christmas would just be collateral damage. The Bible shows historically speaking there was no actual Jesus, so perhaps that can become a war.

  • headpump@yahoo.com' spacegod says:

    What would we do without the ckens to see what ourself clearly isn’t?

  • jcusker4031@gmail.com' For Vectron! says:

    *For example, there’s “Jesus Ween,” …*

    Churches and christian orgs each need to keep a secular person on staff specifically to copy-edit these sorts of things for unintentional hilarity. Because I didn’t think they could get worse than “Purity Balls” but bam, there it is, “Jesus ween.”

  • TracyTucciarone@yahoo.com' Millicent_Hickenlooper says:

    “Hallowe’en” *means* “All Hallows’ Eve,” which is as Christian — at least Catholic — a holiday as you can get. Ergo, Hallowe’en is Christian through and through. Evangelicals might freak out and call it all “Satanic” or what not, but they’re (as is often the case) wrong. Pagans and others might have different celebrations on that day (e.g., Samhain), but it’s not “Hallowe’en.” For Protestants, it’s also “Reformation Day.” Funny how they don’t see Reformation Day as “Satanic.”

  • jrpancel@efn.org' skinnercitycyclist says:

    Yeah, these people seem to want to cram Jesus in everywhere. Give it a rest, have a cup of coffee, put your feet up, NOT EVERYTHING HAS TO BE ABOUT YOUR PARTICULAR CULTIC PRACTICE.

  • jrpancel@efn.org' skinnercitycyclist says:

    Actually, if you are Catholic, most evangelicals probably do not consider you a Xian at all…

  • jrpancel@efn.org' skinnercitycyclist says:

    Actually, Xmas has never been much of a “holy day.” Traditionally in Europe it has been more of a drinking holiday (this is why Geo. Washington was able to triumph over the British at Trenton), and it is only fundies who have construed it in latter days as some kind of sacred rite.

  • jrpancel@efn.org' skinnercitycyclist says:

    “Is there anything evangelicals can’t ruin?”

    Yes, there is: the sheer fun of mocking them.

  • jrpancel@efn.org' skinnercitycyclist says:

    Not enough intelligence to screw in a lightbulb let alone fill a bag with helium?

  • jrpancel@efn.org' skinnercitycyclist says:

    I just checked with Roy Earl, my own black cat companion, and he says it’s all true…

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    “latter days” sounds like something lacking in meaning just enough that it could make a good religion.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    And by worse you mean better.

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