My most vivid memories of childhood involve Halloween. My brother and I would join our cousins walking the neighborhood to get as much candy as possible—always with the obligatory picture of all of us lined up on the couch, sweating like crazy. I loved dressing up as my favorite characters. One year I was Darth Vader, but it was so cold, and there was so much snow, I had to wear my costume over my snow pants. It didn’t take long for my thin, plastic, Vader pants to rip wide open. I wasn’t impressed. I used a piece of wood from the garage for a light saber. In my mind it shown dark red; by the end of the night it was burning in a bonfire.

Here in Northwest Iowa the Christian community has decided that Halloween is for Satanists and Lutherans. So, good Reformed Christians they are, they came up with their own party—a Hallelujah Party. Get it? Hallelujah? Halloween? Regardless, I forbid our kids to take part. Instead, we join forces with the neighbor kids to find the smattering of houses with their outside light on. That’s where the treasure is found. Funny how some pagan practices are ok (Christmas tree, anyone?) and some are not. Christians have always absorbed pagan practices and Halloween is no exception. Look it up—Halloween includes Celtic practices that celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of another (November 1). Samhain is the name of the festival celebrated the night before, the time when the old dies, the land becomes brown, making way for the new. It is a time when the boundary between the spiritual and temporal is thin, allowing those who have died to return. The Celts used to wear costumes to scare away the spirits, gathering round sacred bonfires that re-lit the family hearth, offering protection during the cold, dark, winter.

At the dedication of the Pantheon in Rome on May 13, 609 by Pope Boniface IV, the Christian feast of All Martyrs day was established in the Western Church. Later, Pope Gregory III moved it to November 1. As All Saints Day and All Hallows Eve began to mix with the pagan traditions of the Celts, and others, Halloween began to take shape. Today, it’s a time to get dressed up in costume, gorge ourselves with candy and all things pumpkin spice, and for a short while, knock on our neighbor’s doors. Funny, for all the desperation to get Christians to love their neighbors and do outreach, on the one night we might actually talk to our neighbor we take our kids to a Hallelujah party instead.

Many aspects of contemporary society are much more demonic than Halloween—greed, systems of oppression, racism and bigotry, violence and hatred just to name a few. Many of these things have made there way into so-called Christian communities with very little opposition. Dressing up like Darth Vader to spend time with my cousins on a beautiful, crisp, Autumn night? Some might think that’s a beautiful parable of the Kingdom of God.

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

6 Comments

  • Jim Payton says:

    Appreciate this so much — thanks for posting it. Agreed!

  • Daniel J Meeter says:

    I’ve never enjoyed Halloween personally, but once again, last night, I was delighted by all the kids and parents, outside, interacting with each other and with their neighbors on the sidewalks, sharing candy, sharing stories, sharing our neighborhood. I think it’s great that, although for some reason it was never easy for me, so many kids enjoy getting to dress up in terms of their imaginations and aspirations,

  • Well said. I never figured out how my daughter dressed as “Minnie Mouse” had anything to do with Satan worship. Maybe each of us should hand out church brochures along with candy to each child at our door.

  • Susan says:

    I too still enjoy Halloween. The only gift you have to get is lots of candy. No big meal to cook and colorful decorations. Keep your kids away from the Hallelujah party. There are already too many church activities that separate kids from their neighbors. We actually do live in this world and the more we know the better human beings we can become. Thanks and enjoy the leftover candy.

  • Valerie Van Kooten says:

    When I was growing up in Pella, it wasn’t a big deal. Everyone–Christian school kids and public schools kids alike–trick-or-treated. In fact, we even brought our costumes to church for Reformation Day services (always the same night as t-or-t) and changed in the bathroom and went out from there. Sometime in the mid ’80s, suddenly it was wrong to trick-or-treat. My son’s second-grade teacher told him that he was “dabbling with hell” if he went out that night (my son spent the night crying in the car while his brothers raked in the candy…I was furious with that teacher after all the work I’d put into his costumes!)

    Then our school added a Reformation Day party where….you guessed it, kids went in costume (though they were encouraged to come as “saints and martyrs”)! That petered out a few years ago and once again, kids trick or treat in Pella for the most part, with several churches having parking lots full of members with bags of candy. Go figure. Now my grandsons are wearing the costumes my kids wore.

  • Kathie van Hoven says:

    Thank you. Too often we’re afraid to be in favor of something that others may consider “wrong.” Well said, and thank you,

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