Halloween celebrations and festivities can present unique challenges and problems for Christians and Jews, as this holiday has become greatly secularized and is celebrated in places of work, on our streets and stores where we shop and in the schools that our children attend.
Children are especially beguiled by Halloween as it promotes dressing up in costumes, getting and eating lots of candy and being scared and scary in safe ways.
The Roots of Halloween
Halloween is not a Christian or Jewish holiday; nor really is it a secular holiday. It is a Druid celebration that is also associated with Wiccan rites (witchcraft) and also has roots in roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain.
As a harvest festival marking the time of the autumn equinox this celebration was very popular throughout Europe even during Roman times. As Christianity spread, the Catholic Church had a custom of creating rival Christian holidays at the same times as Pagan ones. Thus the Christians were celebrating their holiday along side the pagans in the small villages and towns, which made conversions easier to accomplish. This is why All Saints Day, and All Souls Day came about, which like all Hallows Eve also focus on the dead. There is no similar holiday in the Jewish calendar, and none of this was ever celebrated by Jesus, the disciples or the early Christians.
Halloween is not a secular holiday, nor does it celebrate the harvest like Thanksgiving. Pause for a moment to consider the symbols that have nothing to do with the harvest itself, in other words, moving beyond the candy corn and pumpkins.
Look at the witches and broomsticks, skeletons and tombstones (representing the spells that were used at this time to conjure up the dead), the devil costumes, and the black cats (superstitions) to see the true basis of Halloween.
Special Concerns for Parents & Caregivers
For Christian and Jewish families, Halloween brings special concerns and challenges. The basic concepts of Halloween of tricks, spells and mayhem are opposite core values and teachings of their religions. Many public schools hold Halloween parades when the children show off their costumes, which in some locales they are allowed to wear to school. Children and parents are invited to parties, to join in trick or treating activities and many of the neighborhood children, all dressed up in costumes ring the doorbells of the people they know and trust expecting treats.
As a parent or guardian explaining to a young child that we do not celebrate Halloween because it is not our holiday sends an awful, and actually untrue message about God and one’s religion to the child. Basically all a young child will understand is that the kids whose families do not follow God or believe as we do have more fun and treats. This is not exactly the message Christian and Jewish families intend to give their children
Below are some fun and meaningful solutions for families and caregivers of children that are successful for Christians and Jews who live in secular communities.
Trick or Treat?
Explain to the child what the phrase, “Trick or treat”, really means: That it is a kind of threat, that if a person does not give a treat then a trick will be played on them , such as toilet papering their yard. Although, of course, we and our friends would never do such a thing, this is what it means. Tell the child that you do not want them to use this phrase, ever. Period. Tell the child that when you go to the home of friend he can hold out his goody bag and ask nicely for candy, using the word “please”. Since what the child wants is candy, this works.
If you select to join in and go door to door with a child who wears a costume, include collecting for a charity. This further removes the child from the concept of “Trick or Treat”, as now the child holds out a collection can and says, “I’m collecting for_______” or “Please help save_________.” Many charities will provide you with a collection can or you can easily make your own from a coffee can, which usually has a plastic lid, so you can collect for a favorite charity.
When you collect for a charity on Halloween, most people will also give the child some candy. This reinforces the idea that doing something for others does bring rewards. So be sure to bring along a suitable bag for candy, too.
Collecting for a charity also takes the emphasis off of the candy as when you arrive home, the parent can make a big deal of county up the money with the child. Be sure to involve the child with sending or bringing the money and presenting it to the charity also.
In addition, and especially if the parent does not take the child Trick or Treating, explain that you as the parent (or caregiver) will provide the child with all the candy he needs, and so he does not need to go from door to door begging. Then be sure to provide a young child with some special candy or treats on Halloween, especially if they go to a public school.
If the school your child attends allows the children to wear costumes to school and/or has a school parade, have your child select their favorite person from the Bible. and that they can wear a costume and go as that person. Little girls who want to be princesses and queens can go as Esther, or also as Mrs. Noah (see below). Boys do well as Joshua (this includes a toy or homemade cardboard sword), David (slingshot), or as Noah (pull a wagon with an ark/boat and lots of animals stuffed and/or plastic).
Children can also dress up as famous men and women of their faiths who were leaders or in the arts. Notice how these costumes give you a chance to talk about your faith and values, plus perhaps teach a little history. [Note: Although public school can come down on what appears to be bringing religion into schools, most people in the Bible were real and historical figures and thus those costumes work. However it may be unwise to send a child to school as Jesus, Mary, a nun, priest or an angel as these are overtly religious. It depends on the administration of your school.]
A popular alternative is to dress up in the costume of a profession, such as nurse, fireman, policeman, ballerina and have a discussion with your child about that profession and how someone who does this job well can promote your values.
A Trick or Treating Alternative Destination
Visit a nursing home and/or shut ins.
Instead of going door to door consider setting up a visit to a local nursing home with a child or children in costume on Halloween afternoon, and/or visit shut ins in your community.
Bring treats to these people – do not ask for any, although some may be offered. and accepted. A parent or guardian can do this alone with their children or with a group of other parents and children. Teenagers can also come along, which gives them a chance to also dress in costume – but for the cause of giving pleasure to others. Teenagers are amazingly good at passing around a basket full of treats and tend to be very patient with the elderly!
The residents will enjoy having the costumes explained, because 1.) they will like the attention and interaction with the kids, and 2.) being dressed as a historical person or a professional person is a lot more interesting than store bought character costumes. Instead of asking for treats, have (and teens) the child give each person in the nursing home event a small candy or fruit, just as is done with Trick or Treaters. Arrange your visit ahead of time with any nursing home. Usually, these facilities are delighted to have such visitors, as this brightens the lives of their residents. Quite possibly the will invite all of the resident to a recreational room to take part in the event.
Parties and Scary Houses
Chances are someone in the neighborhood or the child’s class throws a party and invites the child, and possibly the family. Some youth centers, after school care providers and even churches hold parties, Haunted Houses and events on Halloween.
Often people do this to help keep the kids off the streets and away from ringing doorbells and collecting treats from people the parents do not actually know and trust. This can also be done to keep teens off the streets and out of trouble on Halloween, especially when the teens are given the job of creating the Haunted House booths, events and entertainment.
There is no reason to call the party a Halloweens party, call it a Costume party, or a Blood Gut and Gore Party, even a Spooky or Scary House party. If the party is held in a recreation area belonging to a house of worship, ask for a goodwill donation at the entrance to help pay the expenses of the event or to support a charity.
The activities can be named for some of the gory and even yucky moments in the Bible that will give a scary or uncomfortable moment to the grade school group. As kids stick there hands in boxes to feel the eyeballs (canned olives) brains (wide spaghetti), liver (cut liver-sized bottom of rubber flip flop dipped in baby oil) and “guts”(Jello) they can be told that these are the remains of the losers of one or more of the Bible’s battles.
The “fun” of a Scary House is being scared. Instead of ghosts, goblins, devils, witches, etc. , as kids wind their way through a darkened maze, why not help kids face their real fears? Have a “Bully” who threatens to take their lunch, a Robber wearing a stoking over his face and someone in a bear or gorilla costume jump out or otherwise frighten the children who must always be escorted by an older adult of teen.
The scary time and fun of this kind of event is the same but the spiritual, theological and psychological effects of this kind of party are different.
Bobbing for apples, carnival booths involving throwing balls, rings, and one where someone gets dunked are also popular.
Include prizes for various categories of Best Costume, including Best Biblical Character male, female, Best Famous Person costume male and female, Best costume of a Professional Person male and female, Most Colorful costume, best Least Colorful costume, etc. These and other categories can then be further broken down according to ages, for instance Best Biblical Male Costume for a Six Year Old. The idea being to give every young child except those costumed as the devil, a terrorist or something or someone else that should not get approval or reinforcement. However, even a young child who does not have a costume can be given a prize for doing the best job of coming as themselves. Books make great prizes or simple prizes may be bought at the local dollar store.
Of course, it does not have to be Halloween to enjoy such a party or event, and that is the whole point!
Share the Faith
The ideas above are ways that parents, grandparents and guardians who are Christians and Jews can share their values with children in creative, educational but non-preachy ways, creating experiences that children will enjoy and remember.
These activities also gently share one’s faith and values with others who see the children, including teens, and interact with them. These are ways of shining one’s light.
Since Halloween has been brought into schools and businesses, I wanted to provide a way that Christians and Jews could also celebrate their beliefs on this day in public, by simply wearing a shirt, using a mug, or carrying a bag.
To this purpose I created an image, my first one that is really meant more as an illustration than fine art. The image is called, Apple O’Lantern. This image is created using the original letters of Psalm 17 for all the strokes to create the artwork.
Using strokes that are symbols to create an image is the new Post Conceptual Art, which is new to the 21st Century. Using the symbols that are original Bible letters from scriptural texts for strokes is the UnGraven Image way of creating Post Conceptual Art. [Note: You can learn more about this exciting and revolutionary art theory, plus see other images, videos and more at http://ungravenimage.com}
Psalm 17 refers to the Biblical theology of being the "Apple of His eye", which is shared by Jews and Christians.
Although the Jack O’Lantern became associated with Halloween, the idea comes from an old Irish myth in which a man named Jack tricked the devil into climbing a tree. This became entwined with the northern European fall custom of carving faces and putting lights in pumpkins, gourds and other somewhat hollow fall produce to light the way at night, including the most popular night of the equinox which fell at about Halloween then. I’m guessing that the idea was that Jack was smiling as he bested the devil!At this time all the Apple O’Lantern merchandise for the whole family is exclusively available through my Zazzle store at http://www.zazzle.com/judyrey* . All of the items that simply are entitled “Apple O’Lantern” and show the image are legal to wear anyplace; including public schools and places of business where tee or sweat shirts are worn. The items with the Bible quote, “I am the Apple of His eye” may not be allowed in public schools due to the scripture reference.
Pagan, then Secular to Real Value
The ideas above can and many have been successfully used to turn the day of October 31 (AKA Halloween) to one that is useful to teach and uphold the beliefs and values of Christians and Jews, and even share them with others by examples that are fun.
The emphasis on selecting real heroes and heroines to portray through costumes helps children be more creative, teaches Bible stories and history in a fun but practical way.
Children are given a hands-on experience in helping raise money for a charity that is successful and rewarding for them. Teenagers are given the opportunity to communicate in an entertaining way with the elderly or help younger children have a good time and face their fears. Teenagers given the task of coming up with Biblical battles or events to illustrate for booths and activities will eagerly do research in their Bibles, too.
Parents, relatives and caregivers for the children set examples to the children and community of their values and faith. We can bring The Divine into the secular, even the day of Halloween, by what we say, do and even wear. Like the Jack O’Lantern and Apple O’Lantern, we can shine our light in the darkness.
Please feel free to share this article via email, posting it on blogs, in print-out or printed material, as long as you credit the author, Judy Rey Wasserman, leave in the links, and do not charge for any magazine, newspaper, newsletter, blog (like membership) where you use it. You also have permission to use the images. The art
* * *
Judy Rey Wasserman is an artist and the founder of Post Conceptual Art theory and also the branch known as UnGraven Image Art. Download a free copy click: Manifesto of Post Conceptual Art-- A Painting's Meaning is Inherent in its Stroke.
Check out the limited and open edition prints in the estore.
Follow her on Twitter at @judyrey .]