Tuesday, October 8, 2019

How To Explain Halloween to Christian Youth

By John Sanidopoulos

When I was an eighteen year old seminarian, I was asked by a local parish to do a youth seminar on Halloween about a week before October 31st. Though I never personally had any issues with Halloween, and in fact I enjoyed it, I felt like the parish wanted me to teach the normal anti-Halloween propaganda most Christians teach about it, and I decided to use that to explain what Halloween was all about from a Christian perspective. I basically prepared the material for other youth counselors, and about fifty young people were broken up into five groups of ten and discussed the material. One of these groups was led by me.

After this experience, I decided to never lead another youth seminar on Halloween ever again, at least not the way I did it. Most of the kids knew, as did I, that the material I gave was ridiculous. They didn't need Halloween explained to them. Every single one of them knew exactly what Halloween was. We were just a bunch of older young adults who thought it was our Christian duty to teach them some bogus information, and by doing so they would decide to change their minds about Halloween. But not one single child or teenager cared about this information. And I felt guilty for falling into a trap of my own making where I had to spread false information to please the agenda of Halloweenophobes who are ignorant of the facts.

What were some of the falsehoods we taught them about Halloween, you ask? Well, I took some Christian fundamentalist literature to explain that the carved face of a jack-o'-lantern was the face of someone agonizing in hell, that haunted houses originated when Vlad the Impaler enclosed a bunch of nobles he disliked in a room for a night of partying and locked all the doors when they were drunk to burn them alive, that trick or treating was an offering to the devil, that Halloween originated with pagans who sacrificed human beings, that it is a holiday which originated with the belief that it is the day when the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest, and that all who celebrate Halloween open themselves up to the possibility of being demonically possessed, among other things.

For the next week I was conflicted about how to reconcile what I knew to be true with what I was expected to believe that was in fact not true. Looking back, I think how could I possibly have such a conflict, as truth should win every time, nonetheless at that time I had a conflict. When Halloween came, I got into my car as the sun was about to set, and I went to my old neighborhood where I used to trick or treat as a child with my sisters. Then I drove to another neighborhood where my friends and I as teenagers would do various things for fun on Halloween. I recalled how innocent it all was, and I saw the young people on the streets and adults in their homes having the same simple fun I did. Deep regret came over me for what I did a week before, but it came with a joyful nostalgia similar to waking up as a child on Christmas morning.

At that moment everything became clear to me. If I were forced to explain Halloween to a child, I wouldn't say a word about it. What I would do is ask the children what Halloween means to them, and I would listen, and nod my head in agreement, because there is really no wrong answer. Adults merely need to be good role models by example and not with persuasive words, as this is what will inspire them to want to imitate you as they get older and try to figure things out for themselves. The truth is, Halloween is a subjective cultural holiday and it can take on any possible meaning you want to give it. There is no set rules on how to celebrate Halloween. In fact, you don't have to celebrate it at all. Some kids, rare as they are, don't even like Halloween. Some older teenagers even think it is only a children's holiday. It doesn't have to be, of course, as many adults celebrate Halloween as well in their own way, but if you want to think of it as only a child's holiday, then you can. Halloween is what we make it to be, and want it to be.

If there is something I would explain to young people about Halloween, it is safety and propriety. By safety I mean such things as to carry a flashlight of some sort, not to knock on the doors of houses without their lights on, to look both ways before crossing the street, and checking the wrapping of candy before consuming it. As for propriety I mean conforming to conventionally accepted standards of behavior and morals, such as not pulling dangerous pranks, not causing damage to the property of others, always being courteous and thankful.

Halloween for families is primarily a day where neighbors open their doors to the children of their neighbors and give them a treat for the effort they put into entertaining them with their costumes and their innocent scares. Besides this, for children Halloween can include watching a spooky cartoon, television show or movie, but it all usually ends there. The worst thing that could happen is the children are afraid to sleep that night, because their imaginations run wild, but as many adults will admit, myself included, cause I was the biggest scaredy-cat I knew when I was a kid, is that those memories will be among the best memories of your youth, and they are merely opportunities to confront and deal with your fears, which they can discuss with their parents.

However, if adults explain to their children that Halloween is the devil's holiday, or that it is a pagan festival, or that it is satanic, then they are spreading false information that will likely cause them to have more fear than if they watched a really scary movie and let them go trick or treating. By projecting such fears based on falsehood to children, adults are also teaching children to judge and condemn their friends and neighbors for no good reason at all, and it just isolates them instead of being brought together as a community, which is what Halloween is really all about, and it doesn't have to be anything more than that if you choose, because Halloween is whatever you want it to be, but what you must be on Halloween at least is a good neighbor. After all, to love our neighbor is at the heart of the Christian faith.