Oct 29, 2010

Sorry, no tricks or treats here

Disclaimer:  you may disagree with this blogpost, but please don't roll my yard or egg my house, okay?

Let me start by saying that I truly wish everyone a safe weekend of fun - I do.  But having said that, I have spent considerable time over the last few years researching the history and lore surrounding Halloween, and contemplating where my faith and I stand on this holiday.
It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

From early childhood, my take on Halloween was always summed up perfectly by Charles Schultz' classic story; it was an innocent children's celebration, full of nothing more than candy and pumpkins and adorable kids in cute makeshift (and sometimes even clever) costumes.

As a young mom, I sewed and purchased get-ups for my own children: they were dinosaurs, pea-in-a-pod, pumpkin, raccoon, M&M, Hershey's Kiss, Minnie Mouse, Winnie-the-Pooh, Mulan, Dorothy, and a few others I've probably forgotten.  I carried and walked my trick-or-treaters to neighboring houses to carry on the tradition of my own childhood.  Mr. Official sometimes dressed up - in his striped uniform, of course - and escorted them while I handed out candy to our visitors.

But a few years ago, I began to look at Halloween differently.  For starters, the latent accountant in me gasped at the staggering amount of money and effort that Americans expend on this holiday - the estimate is just shy of $6 billion for this year  - up a billion from last year!  (Guess that dispels the rumors of a recession going on.)   Driving down a typical middle income subdivision street on Halloween evenings, I have seen incredibly elaborate "graveyards" and "haunted mansions" interspersed with countless gaudy inflatable glowing cats, skeletons, ghosts, and other spooky characters.  Every year, the bar inches higher as neighbors try to outdo each other.

Given the part of the country I live in, it's a safe bet that most of those homeowners consider themselves devout Christians.  And my guess is that most of them have probably never stepped back to consider the historical (Catholic or Celtic - take your pick) or modern (pagan, occult or just plain sleazy) underpinnings of Halloween.  A peek into any costume aisle will quickly remind you that the emphasis is on scary, gory and risque.  A few cute and goofy costumes are still sold, but they are not among the most popular.

As Christians, we are supposed to be...well...peculiar.  Yes, peculiar, as in noticeably different. Called out of darkness into the light.  It's not about being different for the sake of being different, it's about discerning right from wrong, good from evil. It's about making conscious choices based on what we know we are supposed to do.  Doing the hard things, even when everyone else is doing the fun stuff.

To parents who are concerned that their child will "miss out" if they don't let them participate in Halloween, I suggest this is a perfect teachable moment - one not to be missed.  (Whether you do it consciously or not, you ARE teaching them something by your choice.  If you teach them to go with the flow and mindlessly follow the crowd when they are young children, how can you expect them to suddenly transform into a think-for-yourself kind of teenager in the face of fierce and relentless peer pressure?)

Every child inevitably raises the protest, "but everyone ELSE gets to [fill in the blank]."  Once upon a time, parents inevitably gave the standard reply: "If all the kids were jumping off a bridge, would you?"  Now it seems parents not only encourage their children to jump, some parents are willing to push them off the bridge, because they are afraid their child will miss out on what everyone else is doing.  (Say it with me, "Parenting is not for sissies.  Parents must be leaders.  And leaders must stand alone, in the gap, and make the hard calls.")

It's not easy, but as Christians we are not to be conformed to this world, nor are we to yoke ourselves with unbelievers.  It's a rhetorical question, but ask yourself what Paul asked the Corinthians: "What fellowship can light have with darkness?"  More pointed still was Paul's caution in his first letter to them; that we cannot partake of the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons.

When I read those passages and applied them to the context of Halloween, without the trappings of sentimentality I draped around the festivities, I could no longer look at it as harmless and innocent.  As I tried to salvage the fun bits and pieces floating among the muck and mire, I had to ask myself if they were really worth fishing out and cleaning off.  My answer was no, they're not.  Or to paraphrase a metaphor familiar to most Christians (eat the meat, spit out the bones), there's just too much bone to make that fish worth eating.

As for me and my house, we now choose to focus on other aspects of the fall season - and there are many causes for celebration during the next several weeks.  I am thankful I live in a democracy where I can practice my right to vote on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, and help determine my country's leadership.  I am thankful for our veterans and try to honor them every day, but most especially I stop and remember their sacrifice each November 11.  And I am thankful for those who made the pilgrimage to this land nearly 400 years ago, enduring so much to gain the precious freedom to practice their faith.  Because of them, we live in the land of the free.

And as in all things, we are all free to choose where we stand in this matter, and I respect that the choice rests with each of us.  It is my simple hope that other Christians will reconsider this holiday and see there's nothing really happy or hallowed about it.

Happy weekend,