When it comes to Halloween, having a sense of humor helps. Forget for a moment of this day as the Vigil of All Saints, and wonder.
You need a little levity and latitude, for example, when planning what to do when Halloween falls on a Sunday as it does this year, and people have to make a decision about trick-or-treating on a Sunday night (a school night) versus, say, the night before, when some adults might rather watch college football than answer the door and hand out candy. For others, there's also the fact of Sunday-evening church, meaning some must choose between taking their children for evening formation or on a candy romp. (Which is more likely to win in your house?)
Particularly in the South,
“You’re in the Bible Belt,” said Laura Raschke, 37, a clerk at the LifeWay Christian Store [in Savannah, Georgia], who supported [a switch from Sunday to Saturday trick-or-treating]. So religion “is always going to be part of anything. But it’s also school. We have kids out there as early as 6 or 6:45 in the morning.” (Savannah public schools happen to be closed Monday, for a teacher work day, but many area students attend private schools.)
The Savannah mayor, Otis S. Johnson, who was at a Monday news conference where officials suggested the switch, said that as a lifelong resident of the city, he could not remember another time anybody complained about Halloween on a Sunday. But he said he supported the decision [to move trick-or-treating to a Saturday].
“Sunday is the Christian Sabbath,” Mr. Johnson said. “But also since celebrating Halloween normally takes place at night, and the Jewish Sabbath ends at sundown, we would not be disrespecting their Sabbath either. And Muslims celebrate their prayer on Friday. So if there were religious concerns, we have covered all of them!”
Of course, if you have an outright problem with Halloween, you can always put up something in its place, John W. Morehead notes.
In regards to the season itself, most evangelical churches will offer alternatives to church members, usually called “fall festivals,” since even using the term “Halloween” is frowned upon. At fall festivals kids will more or less do what other kids do on Halloween, though they’ll be costumed as bible characters in an effort to present it as a distinct alternative.
The rationale here, of course, is that Halloween is evil. It’s [sic] roots are correctly understood as pagan but the possibility that not everything that comes from paganism must be evil is ignored, as is that fact that Halloween incorporates a number of elements and influences that have accrued during its journey through various cultures. In truth, some of these elements are Christian, like the feast of the dead that attempted to maintain communion with the saints, both living and deceased. The Roman Catholic Church continues to include this element in its festivities, and thus, as historian Ronald Hutton argues concerning Halloween and Protestant Christianity, “To describe the feast as fundamentally unchristian is therefore either ill-informed or disingenuous.”
The evangelical association of Halloween with contemporary Paganism and Western esotericism and Witchcraft gives further pause. Evangelical ministries will frequently address Witchcraft during the month of October through radio programs, websites, blogs, and newsletters. Unfortunately, the portrait they paint tends to rehearse various mischaracterizations, include a confusion of Witchcraft with Satanism, accusations of ritual sacrifice, evangelical exaggeration of the size and growth of Witchcraft, and a misreading of fantasy, fairytale, and horror depictions of Witches as reflecting real-world practice.
One of the biggest, baddest, boldest replacements in recent Halloween memory is the evangelical phenomenon known as the hell house. One example: the Tribulation Trail in Stockbridge, Georgia, in which the idea that Christians may one day be placed under duress until they renounce their faith is placed in heavy rotation.
Unsurprisingly, scenes from the “tribulation” make up the majority of the walk. Our tour group was asked to imagine that we were in the days just following the rapture, and the Antichrist (whose speeches involved a lot of Obama-flavored language about “change”) had established a totalitarian government after duping the masses with his political charm.
Based on the Antichrist’s orders, our tour group was being initiated into something called “Citizen Change Camp.” A main part of our “initiation” was witnessing the execution and torture of people who refused to denounce their Christian faith.
Six out of twelve total Tribulation Trail scenes involved executions. During one scene we saw a middle-aged male soldier throw a preteen girl into a coffin and spray her with blank bullets. In another scene, soldiers played by teen boys forced a fellow teen to watch his younger sister beaten to death with a club. In yet another, soldiers executed a girl—played by a child who could not have been more than eight years old—in order to pressure her mother into renouncing Christianity. Between scenes, men and teenage boys wearing camouflage and carrying automatic rifles surrounded our group, pointed their guns at us, and herded us to the next station. Along the pathways, we heard the groans of child actors locked up in cages and people begging us for water.
Perhaps it's not Halloween that stands in need redemption so much as it is we ourselves, and what the human family has made around the fraying edges of our celebration of saints and departed ones. One need only thumb through a Jack Chick tract on the subject to see how far it's gone.
In any case, levity helps. Thank goodness for Zombie Jesus.