Families across America are getting their candy and costumes ready for Halloween this weekend – but not everybody will be celebrating it in he traditional way.
The day has been a fixture of American culture for more than 200 years, and has provided fond childhood memories for countless people for generations.
However, because Halloween is often tied to pagan traditions, witchcraft and evil spirits, well-meaning Christians have serious differences on whether to embrace or ignore it.
Some believers view Halloween as just another traditional family holiday that simply involves handing out candy, fun pranks, games and stories about imaginary ghosts and characters.
Other Christians, however, discourage their children from participating in Halloween, will be observed on Sunday, Oct. 31, saying that it offers nothing positive, teaches no redeeming values, and glorifies the power of evil while implying to children that toying with satanic forces can be fun.
They often cite New Testament Scriptures such as Thessalonians 5:22, which states, “Abstain from all appearance of evil.”
A third group of Christians, including many in the Indianapolis area, are taking a middle road by not embracing the philosophy behind Halloween, but offering satisfactory alternatives so that Christian children can have fun along with their peers.
“Many people say Halloween is really incompatible with Christian Scripture and teachings,” said Teri Thomas, pastor and head of staff at Northminster Presbyterian Church. “But that doesn’t mean the church community can’t present something of its own for children and families on that day.”
Northminster is one of many congregations in Indianapolis that are offering other activities for Halloween. This Saturday, Oct. 30, the church will host “Trunk or Treat,” a sort of fun festival for youths.
The parking lot will be transformed for the evening, with church members parking their vehicles with candy and other goodies in open trunks. Children will be able to collect treats from adult members in costumes.
“We have helpers to guide the children as they go from trunk to trunk in the safe environment of the church,” Thomas said.
Trunk or Treats-type events have become more common among some churches, while others offer interactive parties for children and youth. One such event is Eastern Star Church’s annual Hallelujah Party, which has been hosted by the mega-congregation for five years. The event will include a variety of games, candy and the opportunity for children to wear costumes that reflect positive characters such as superheroes, fairies, and princesses, or people in careers like firefighters and policemen.
“We only want positive things represented because we’re offering a wholesome and safe alternative to Halloween,” said Mike Johnson, associate pastor for youth at Eastern Star Church. “This is a way for children to still enjoy themselves, but do it in a safe, Christian setting where every member of the family can also have fun.”
As a holiday, Halloween’s roots can be traced to the pagan Celts, who lived mostly in England, Ireland, France and other parts of Western Europe during the Middle Ages. They celebrated what was called the Day of the Dead (Oct. 31), in which their lord of death (Saman), would call together all the souls that had died so they could journey to the land of their afterlife. Food and gifts would be left out for the departed souls.
Later, many Christians adopted the holiday and reinterpreted it as All Saints Day, which is still observed by believers in some areas of the world. Immigrants, mostly Irish and Scotish, brought versions of Halloween with them when they arrived in the United States during the 19th century. Symbols of the holiday, such as witches, black cats, pumpkins and masks had become common in America by the 1840s.
Pastor Charles Harrison of Barnes United Methodist Church said his congregation will be busy with its 131st anniversary celebration, but would otherwise offer something to take the place of regular Halloween activities.
“We can’t just stand still when the world offers our youth an option, especially if it might not be good for them,” Harrison said. “It is better if we are prepared to give them something else that will strengthen their walk with Christ and keep them in the house of God.”
Quick list of church alternative Halloween activities
Light of the World Trunk or Treat
Light of the World Christian Church, 4646 N. Michigan Rd.
Oct. 30, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
For more information, call (317) 254-5922
Eastern Star Church, 5750 E. 30th St.
Oct. 31, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
For more information, call (317) 591-5050
Zion Hope Fall Celebration
Zion Hope Baptist Church, 5950 E. 46th St.
Oct. 30, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
For more information, call (317) 547-4387
Northminster Trunk or Treat
Northminster Presbyterian Church, 1660 Kessler Blvd., E. Dr.
Oct. 30 from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.
For more information, call (317) 251-9489.