What does your church do for Halloween?

Like it or not, Halloween is the 2nd biggest holiday in America. While some churches are vehemently against acknowledging the day as anything other than the last day of October, there is some interesting history worth considering. Let’s have a quick history lesson:

1) The earliest history of celebrations on November 1st goes back to the 1st Century AD in Ireland. The event was called Samhain (pronounced Sow-In.) It wasn’t until the Potato Famine of the mid 1800’s that Celtic traditions around this day started showing up in American culture with the influx of Irish immigrants.

2) The word “Halloween” is likely a derivative of “Hallows Eve” which was the eve of the Catholic holiday, All Martyrs Day, which started in the 7th century. Originally on May 13th, it was later moved to November 1st. The day celebrated all the martyrs and saints of the faith.

3) The roots of what we celebrate in Modern America date to the early 1800’s and were community celebrations that everyone could take part in.  The parties became too big for town squares and were shifted to homes and classrooms so more people could participate, but were always at their core, celebrations after the harvest season. The holiday was celebrated in America long before the Irish brought their traditions here. Modern American marketing and the candy industry have made it into what we experience in the 21st century – a strange concoction of scary creatures and a month-long sugar high.

The event we see and experience today is likely only connected to its earliest roots through the imagery of clever marketing companies. At its core, it has been a part of American culture almost since its founding, and it is a huge part of the lives of nearly every family with children in America.

So how should a church approach Halloween?

Here are a few thoughts that will help you navigate the questions you’re likely to encounter as you make plans this fall:

1) Our guest ministries should always be looking for ways to extend hospitality to our communities and meeting people where they are. Halloween is the second biggest holiday (after Christmas) in America and it would be a lost opportunity for us if we ignore something that is part of so many people’s lives.

2) God can redeem anything. Perhaps 2,000 years ago there was a spiritual aspect to the Celtic celebration of Samhain, but the holiday we experience in the west in the 21st century isn’t even founded on that tradition. We have an opportunity to embrace the modern foundations of our current Halloween traditions – community harvest celebrations, while giving God an opportunity to redeem lives, relationships and communities that are racing towards post-Christianity at breakneck speeds.

3) People want relationships. People want to know their neighbors. They want to be part of something bigger. Give them that chance.

A. Host a Trunk or Treat event at your church. You can keep kids off of busy streets, show your community that your church is there year-round, engage parents while kids feast, and collect contact information for future follow up.

B. Give out bags and thank you cards for kids to hand back to people who give them candy. This is a great way to teach children gratitude for all the free gifts and candy they will be receiving this Halloween.

C. Have something for adults on a chilly fall night. Everyone likes something free! Have warm cider, coffee or cocoa ready for parents who are walking with their children. Make sure to give them something about your church when you give them their free warm drink.

Just because your church doesn’t engage in the culture of Halloween, it doesn’t mean most of the kids in your church aren’t dressing up as firefighters and princesses and going out asking for candy. And, it certainly doesn’t mean the average lost person in your community isn’t taking part in it too. We can either choose to shun the culture we’ve been placed in, or meet people where they’re at, show them we’re relevant to their lives year-round, and give God an opportunity to redeem a sugar high into an event where neighbors come together and enjoy their children and communities. That is, ultimately, what the American holiday was founded on.

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