It seems like every October there is this strange tension in the church. While the rest of the world is out stretching cobwebs across their doorways and setting skeletons in their porch swings, folks inside the 4 walls of the church are tiptoeing around trying to avoid the obvious elephant in the room: Halloween. We try to pretend like it’s not an issue, scheduling our Harvest Festivals the week of the 31st – but maybe not on that day so as not to promote the holiday – half joking about our family friendly costumes of super heroes or princesses for the “Boo at the Zoo” party while ignoring the door-to-door visitors that might be coming Halloween night. We ride this imaginary fence of whether or not to participate, all the while missing the forest for the trees.
This year I learned how to celebrate Halloween like Jesus would.
I have never been one to make much ado about Halloween. My kids have a huge collection of costumes that they wear all the time, so Halloween is just the day that everyone else joins their party. Plus the candy, of course, or the Frankenstein-themed notepads and plastic spider rings from those teal pumpkin’ed houses. A few simply-carved gourds is the most decorating we do for the occasion, and this year we even skipped that due to a severe reasonably-priced-pumpkin shortage when we procrastinated until the last minute. I hold no ill will toward others who go all out; I simply don’t have the disposable income or off-season storage to devote toward such items.
Growing up, my church always had a “Hallelujah Hoedown” (laugh all you want; this is East Tennessee) in place of Halloween celebrations, and by the time my parents wrapped their heads around us trick-or-treating, my brothers and I were in middle school and not terribly interested anymore. For the last decade of my adult life, I have spent nearly every Halloween at church, where we hosted a Trunk or Treat event, a “safe alternative” to walking door to door at strangers’ houses. I value that this particular church was open to the community, and while our church-sponsored trunks were always “family friendly,” no one batted an eye when community members showed up dressed as zombies or demons or scantily-clad nurses or whatever other non-churchy costumes were presented. (Okay, well, maybe my husband batted his eyes in the other direction of scantily-clad nurses, but it wasn’t a judgmental sort of way.)
This year we are serving at a new church, one whose Fall Festival was held on Wednesday night before Halloween. Our neighbor across the street is festive for every occasion, and she rang my doorbell last week bringing special treats for my kids. “I know you are always at church on Halloween,” she said, “so here’s something special since the kids won’t be coming to my house.”
“Actually, we’re not doing anything on the 31st,” I replied, much to her surprise, “so we will plan to come by and show off our costumes!”
Her excitement at my news should have clued me in that there was something special about this day in our neighborhood, but I have to admit it didn’t. I was actually a little disappointed that our church wasn’t having an outreach event on Halloween night, as I had grown so accustomed to this tradition being a blessing in our previous context. This year, however, we got to try something new.
Halloween night came around, and I honestly considered skipping the trick or treating. We had already been to our church Fall Festival on Wednesday, our new church campus’ Fall Festival on Thursday, and a local Freaky Friday event in the park, so we had enough candy to feed the whole neighborhood. But I already told our neighbor we would come by in costume, so off we went. As we walked down our street I realized something that made my heart sink:
I don’t know my neighbors.
I know R&C on my right, whose boys ride the bus with my kids and let them come over when I am late getting home after school. I know D&K on my left, who always go out of their way to be neighborly, including dying my hair pink a few years ago. (That’s going above and beyond, people!) I know C&C across the street, who bring my kids dollar store treats for every major holiday and give them shiny rocks from their garden whenever we go retrieve a ball that has rolled into their yard. And that’s it.
As we walked from house to house, I saw dozens of kids I didn’t know lived here, including two in my son’s class. We met dozens of parents and grandparents giving out candy. There was one man sitting in his garage with a box of cigars and a bowl of candy about 10 feet away so kids could help themselves without breathing his smoke. (LOL, by the way.) There was a little old lady who lives by herself and gave kids packets of hot chocolate and instant oatmeal in lieu of candy. (LOL even more, by the way.) There was a family on a cul-de-sac with a trailer hitched on the back of their truck, giving neighbor kids a mini-hayride in addition to sweets from Elvira at the door. (Okay, that was awesome.)
Not only do I not know my neighbors, but I am missing out on what it means to be a neighbor.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with Trunk or Treat (or Hallelujah Hoedowns) at church, as these can be a big blessing in certain communities. And yes, I should be spending time getting to know my neighbors all year long. But this Halloween showed me that a typically controversial holiday can be an opportunity to love people. No, I don’t mean hand out salvation tracts along with Blow Pops and Snickers. (That’s actually pretty annoying.) I mean coming together as a community, learning each others’ names and needs, loving people where they are, especially when that is just up the street.
For one night every year, my neighborhood becomes one big party where everyone joins in, and I have the opportunity to interact with people I normally never see. Rather than boycotting that with my self-righteousness or devaluing it with my presence somewhere else, I’m choosing to participate, dress up, share the fun, and share the LOVE. Body of Christ, rather than fighting about “the Christian response” to Halloween, let’s take the opportunity to get to know our neighbors, and serve them the way Jesus told us to. Because loving our neighbors honors him, and that’s what Christian holidays are all about.
Maybe next year I’ll remember to get pumpkins…