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.