Halloween fun?

29/10/09 | Posted by Poppy

It is that time of year again when small children turn up at the front door demanding sweets and chocolate. I will have my door firmly shut on Saturday. Is this because I'm a Christian or just a grumpy old woman?

image
 Pumpkin Picture with thanks to Maria Li

The grumpy old woman factor is quite prominent. I’m old enough to remember when Halloween meant a special edition of Blue Peter with John Noakes and Peter Purves decorating bat shaped biscuits. If we were really lucky we got a spooky story on Jackanory.

And that was it. No trick or treating, no dressing up and no pumpkins. The current fashion for dressing wee children in shop bought fancy dress and then sending them round to the neighbours for sweeties is an export from the United States. Change….bah humbug.

But underneath all this grumpiness is a disquiet about dressing children up as things that are about ugliness and death. This week I’ve seen mini gouls, decaying mummies, ghosts and vampires on children as young as five.

Years ago one of my sons was invited to a neighbourhood Halloween party at short notice. Not wanting to be party poopers we borrowed a black tee-shirt from his father, put sunglasses on him and put gel in his hair to make him look cool and trendy. Five minutes work and we had a 9 year old vampire in the house. Looking at what we had done I was really unhappy about it but let him go to the party.

I think what upset me was that vampires in popular fiction are cruel and kill. They are predators who use people as food and have no empathy or compassion. In folklore they are evil. In a rash of films, tv shows and books over the past ten years or so vampires have become sexy and aspirational. In ‘Buffy,’ ‘Angel,’ ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Twilight’ the vampires heros are tortured souls who struggle with their inner demons. It is all a long way from Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula and who was based on Vlad the Impaler, a historical figure, who really did like to listen to the screams of his victims as they died in agony.

Maybe I’m over sensitive but there is enough death and destruction and injustice in the world without dressing kids up in a glamorized version of it. This week 80 women and children were killed in a market bomb attack in Pakistan. There was nothing glamorous about that.

My way of dealing with Halloween over the years has been to create a family album of photos of my grandparents and great uncles and aunts. Then on All Hallows Eve I can tell the children the stories of their family. About my grandfather who had to go out to work at 14 because his father was killed on the trams and he had to leave school to support his mother and sisters. We have photos of the wonderful cakes he made and the shop he ran in the forties. We have stories about how the family managed through the blitz in World War II, how a bomb fell on the sofa and didn’t go off and how my uncle was shot down over Germany in the last months of the war. By telling these stories I’m passing on the family history but I’m also introducing the children to the idea of death. All the people in my family book are dead. They left behind people who cared for them and who want to remember them but they are with us no more.

These members of my family weren’t perfect, they made mistakes, but the thought of my loved ones as ghosts or ghouls or vampires makes me really sad. I have a hope that they are with Jesus who said that he was the way the truth and the life. There is no certainty about that hope because it comes from faith. Sometimes that faith is fragile, sometimes it feels stronger but as I look at my family pictures this weekend I will hold onto the the love that I grandfather showed me and see in it that love a pale reflection of the overwhelming love of God for all of mankind. And it seems better to honour my beloved dead to remember them with love than celebrate the ugliness of the undead.

 

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Thanks for your article, I also feel some disquiet about the nature of Halloween and the trick or treat thing. Good memories of the past, and loved ones, seems better somehow. Its popular culture though now, and a thriving money maker. What could parents do really, maybe the churchs need to take a stand of some kind?

#1. By imelda on November 03, 2009

This year my friend and I decided to avoid the Halloween festivities and went out for a meal in our local town.

#2. By lisa hurley on November 05, 2009

I agree with all of what has been said above, but I have yet to find a good response to ‘Trick or Treaters’.  I have no problem with not joining in myself or with organising alternative activities for children.  If invited to a hallowe’en party, I would probably go dressed up in a non-hallowe’en costume and use this as a conversation starter.  But what do I do when children turn up at my door asking for sweets.  I don’t like giving them things as then I am ‘celebrating’ hallowe’en.  But I also don’t like leaving the door closed and being a ‘grumpy Christian’.  How can I engage with what is going on and use the opportunity as a positive Christian witness?

#3. By Jo Lockyer on November 05, 2009

A friend of mine used to hand out blessing cards to the trick or treaters. I’ve not been organised enough to try it but maybe I could give it a go next year.

#4. By Poppy on November 06, 2009

A much more positive response would be for the churches to do exactly what the writer proposes, turn it into a festival to celebrate all the good memories we have of our departed and to celebrate their being with Jesus in his Kingdom. Much better than the grumpy approach.

#5. By David on November 10, 2009

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