Changing Halloween Traditions

When I taught ESL (to adults), one of the things I liked to spend at least a few minutes on as they rolled around every year were American holidays. Most holidays are fairly simple to describe and explain, but Halloween is not one of them. I tried a couple of times to look at the history of it with my students, but I eventually just focused on Halloween traditions, especially trick-or-treating, as this was something that would directly affect them. We talked about things like costumes (including masks), jack-o’-lanterns, handing out candy (or not), and the symbolism of the colors orange and black. I also told them about my own family’s Halloween tradition; more on that later.

As I have thought about Halloween over the years, the one overriding, pervasive theme of it has been fear, which is often reflected in Halloween costumes. This in turn has caused me to reflect on the depiction of monsters throughout the history of cinema, which strongly influences costumes. I used to watch vampire movies, and I have come to realize that the depiction of them has changed rather dramatically over the years. In Dracula (Bela Lugosi, 1931), Horror of Dracula (Christopher Lee, 1958), and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Jack Palance, 1974), the vampire is portrayed as an evil creature who must be (and is) destroyed. This continued in 1979 with Salem’s Lot, a miniseries. However, also in 1979, there was a remarkable change in the movie Dracula (Frank Langella); he is romanticized (quite literally), and whether he is actually destroyed or not at the end of the movie is ambiguous. Jumping ahead to 1994, Interview with the Vampire also romanticizes the creatures; furthermore, they are not destroyed, although others are. I mention all of these specific titles because I have seen them, I’m not proud to say, and I don’t recommend them; after Interview, I stopped watching vampire movies. However, I’m well aware of the Twilight series of movies (2008-2012) and the strong romanticism of the creatures in them. I find this evolution of vampires in cinema to be disturbing. On the one hand, the earlier monsters were scarier (and often ugly), but at least they were portrayed as evil that was to be destroyed. The more-current monsters, on the other hand, are often portrayed as very attractive, romantic, and not necessarily evil. I’m not very familiar with movies and shows about witches (which is just as well), but compare the wicked witch of the west in The Wizard of Oz (1939) with the witches in the original Charmed TV series (1998-2006). Based on what I see online about these three witches all being “good” witches, you can see a similar change in portrayal. The current Hocus Pocus 2 is listed as a “comedy” for “kids and family,” which also tells you something.

When I think about Halloween traditions, I have also noticed a dramatic change. When I was a boy in the 1960s, only elementary-school and younger kids trick-or-treated in my community. Jumping to the early 1990s, after being overseas for a few years, my wife and I returned to the U.S. One thing we noticed was that trick-or-treating had expanded to include teens. In addition, we began to hear about Halloween parties for adults. Costumes were becoming more sophisticated. While little kids wore very cute costumes, some teen costumes were becoming scarier. In some cases, costumes were even sexualized, especially for adults, but also some teens. I certainly don’t see a one-to-one correspondence between the changing portrayal of vampires (and witches) in cinema and changing Halloween costumes and traditions, but there are some striking similarities.

With all that said: What’s a Christian to do on Halloween? I have known brothers and sisters who refuse to participate in any way; they keep their outdoor lights off and either stay home or go elsewhere. Some churches have “Alternative Halloween Parties” or “Fall Festivals.” Some believers participate very “normally” by taking their younger kids trick-or-treating. Some believers hang out in their front yards and play Christian music, serve food (besides candy!), or get even more creative. Many years ago when our kids were little, my wife and I decided that we wanted to get the Gospel out in some way to all of these kids coming to our door. While one of us took our own kids trick-or-treating (my wife was very creative with their costumes), the other stayed home. We had decided to write up a message and attach it to each piece of candy that we handed out. Here are a few examples of messages that we have written over the years:

  • For many people, Halloween is a time to fear.  Witches, ghosts, and the like may be fun, but at the same time they can cause fear.  But the Lord says to those who know Him, β€œDon’t fear because I am with you and will guide you.”  Have a fun–and fearless–Halloween.
  • Since the events of Sept. 11, many people in our country have been scared.  Halloween has also traditionally been a scary holiday.  However, if you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you have nothing to fear.  “Perfect love drives out fear.”  (I John 4:18)  Have a fun and fearless Halloween.
  • Many changes are taking place in our country and in the rest of the world.  This has caused some people to be afraid.  If you believe in Jesus Christ, however, you have no reason to fear.  Have a fun, fearless Halloween.
  • Taste and see that the Lord is good. (Psalm 34: 8 in the Bible)

Our young trick-or-treaters arrive first and don’t care about the messages, of course. However, we usually have a pretty good number of teens a little later. Some of them (even in groups) stop to read the messages before they continue on their way. Our 9/11 message resonated with at least one teen, who the following year told us that it had meant a lot to him. One year, a teen said, “Hey, we remember you; you’re the guys who hand out the cool messages!”

It is not my intention to criticize Christians who choose not to interact with their community on Halloween night. Each person/family needs to decide before the Lord what they are going to do. Speaking of: I’d be especially interested in knowing what you choose to do on this holiday. Regardless, have a fun–and especially fearless–Halloween!

10 thoughts on “Changing Halloween Traditions

  1. Keith, thanks for the great ideas. I believe in taking advantage of every opportunity to get the gospel out, and when people actually come to your door looking for something good, it’s an ideal time to give them the Word of God, in addition to (not in lieu of!) a treat. You have probably read about how my friends and I put on the neighborhood production of “Satan’s Worst Nightmare” (the reenactment of the Resurrection – the book has yet to be published.) But now that I’m in a new town and state, the thought of trying to organize that many people and resources to do it again is daunting.
    Lately I’ve decided to stop living in denial and embrace my age. My hair is pretty close to white now, and one young lady in our church exclaimed enthusiastically, “I love it! You look like a fairy!”I’ve been checking out “Lord of the Rings”-type costumes 😏, but the past few days I’ve been thinking I’d rather present myself as an angelic messenger and declare,”FEAR NOT! For I bring you good news..!” and give them a treat with a gospel message. What’d’ya think?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ann, I haven’t read about “Satan’s Worst Nightmare;” can you send me a link? Regarding what you wrote about people coming to your door is almost exactly what my wife said all those years ago! I had to laugh at the young lady’s comment, and I like the idea of you as an angelic messenger–with a treat! πŸ˜ƒ

      Also, I just added a few sentences to my post to include something about witches; I forgot to include that this morning.


  2. HI Keith, I know a lot of sincere Christian brothers and sisters who feel that Halloween is either a pagan or even worse a demonic festival. I am personally uneasy with Halloween myself, I wonder how Halloween could have such deep roots in a nation with such a strong Protestant tradition as the U.S.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Anthony, you probably know about the Catholic All Hallows’ Eve (where “Halloween” comes from) and All Saints Day, which is the next day. Anyway, I guess you could say it was their (futile) attempt to counteract a pagan festival. You may know that the name “Easter” comes from the name Eostre, a pagan fertility goddess. Easter has largely been redeemed by the church even though we still have Easter bunnies, eggs, and the like. I wonder if the church can help redeem Halloween. At least on an individual basis, we can use the opportunity to reach out with the Gospel. However, I understand and respect those Christians who choose not to recognize it in any way.

      As always, I appreciate your comment, Anthony! Blessings to you and Suying.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The shift you describe in the cinematic images, over time, is interesting. Unfortunately, I’m not surprised though. There’s been a similar degradation in prime-time television regarding what would have been acceptable in the 60s versus today.

    Regarding Halloween traditions: I happen to live in an area where there are no children or teens so trick-or-treating is a non-issue for me. When my children were young we chose the “alternative” by taking them to church activities or other community activities. I respect and applaud those who use it as an evangelistic opportunity, provided they do that with a treat.

    Thanks, Keith, for taking the time to share this post offering people some things to reflect on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’ve got that right, in terms of the overall degradation of TV over the decades, along with movies. I also respect other Christians’ decisions in regard to Halloween, including yours when your kids were young. As always, Manette, I appreciate your thoughtful comment!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I debated this one for a few days because I figured that some would be offended by my having watched vampire movies (a long time ago, and most of them before I was a Christian), but I decided to write it anyway. Thank you for your encouraging words, Brother Andrew!


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