IVP - Strangely Dim - Halloween, Schmalloween

October 24, 2003

Halloween, Schmalloween

by Dave Zimmerman

I thought it might make for a good, timely column to look at the history of Halloween, but then I realized that I don’t care about the history of Halloween.

When I was a kid, I cared. The tradition surrounding Halloween in my community was that candy would be exchanged for jokes or riddles. We would dress up and approach our neighbors with a hearty “Trick or Treat!” They would open the door and admire our costumes, and the barter would begin.

I would wait my turn as my brother told his joke and received his candy. Then I would tell my joke and receive precisely the same amount of candy, and my sister would follow in turn. Then we’d move to the next house and tell the same jokes. My dad, who was following us around, protecting us from fearsome creatures of the late afternoon, would occasionally be rewarded for his diligence with a can of beer.

But these days, I don’t care. You might expect someone who works at a Christian company to get exercised over Halloween. After all, the hype connects it to the occult, to satanism, to evil. And countercultural Christians link it to All Saints Day, a celebration of the people of God. The whole climate of Halloween invites passionately held opinions—Halloween is virtually a battle between good and evil.

Perhaps I should establish that I vehemently disagree with evil and Satan, but Halloween itself is so . . . so lame. Really, what is so celebratory or even threatening about grade-school kids dressing up like witches or ballerinas and hitting people up for candy? At least at Easter kids have to hunt for their food; at Halloween kids are rewarded simply for being cute. If I were to ask any of the endless stream of children who this year will be eating all my bite-sized Twix bars “What keeps us celebrating Halloween?” I would be met with as glazed an expression as a mummy on a sugar-buzz can offer.

Holidays such as Christmas and Easter are given weight by the Christian faith—these dates mark nothing less than the birth and the resurrection of the Savior of the world. National holidays such as Independence Day and Martin Luther King Day are guarded by the U.S. government as memorials to key events and figures in national history. But then there’s Halloween, which every year shows more and tells less.

The Scriptures commissioned the Israelites to not lose sight of important events. Israelite children would learn the significance of the Passover because their parents were given the words to say: “When your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians’ ” (Exodus 12:26-27).

Halloween doesn’t even compare to the Passover. But the kids look so darned cute in their costumes, and a neighborhood gets closer by the simple act of handing bite-sized Twix bars to one another. I suppose some moments can be enjoyed simply for the temporary happiness they afford us, and the sugar coma that follows Halloween as inevitably as All Saints Day affords us the chance to clear our minds and prepare our hearts for the Advent that lies ahead.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at October 24, 2003 1:04 PM Bookmark and Share

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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